©2002-05 robert foddering
Art and Existentialism

Art and Existentialism

© Robert Foddering 1998



Part I: Art and Existentialism




Art and Existentialism

Investigative Problems

Tate :Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55

The Artists


Further Study


Part II: Giacometti and Existentialism



Giacometti’s Concerns

Giacometti’s Work

Giacometti and Existentialism


Part III: Art and Perception- Existentialism?


Existentialism and Contemporary Influence

Cezanne to Arikha- Existential Perception Not Limited To Existentialism

Existentialism and Perception





List Of illustrations


Part I - Art and Existentialism


“What expresses itself in language,

we cannot express by means of a language. What can be shown, cannot be said.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus




Existentialism holds a personal interest for me, especially in its attempts to explain mans existence within the world. I feel that existentialism and its expression within the arts, reflects closely with the interests I have developed in my personal work and perhaps its concerns are still relevant to all artists operating in contemporary society.

Throughout this dissertation I aim to investigate the commonality between the philosophy of existentialism and the production of the arts. This will lead to an investigation into the method of genuinely representing existence within art. There should be investigations into the artist and their work. Areas that delve into the relationship between a philosophy and the arts and how genuine that relationship is. This allows us to investigate how deeply society, contemporary thinking and mood affect individual artists and whether a philosophy can truly be represented or used as a motivation for production within the arts.



Existentialism was a philosophy that developed during the occupation and the French post-war period of 1945. It was a time of great change, the aftermath and atrocities of the Second World War left Europe’s, and perhaps the entire world’s population re-evaluating the meaning of their existence. At the same time being confronted by nuclear threat, death and mass destruction.

“World war two constituted a natural disaster, in so far as it tore asunder the seamless web of signs that constitutes modern civilization. Philosophy and art should simply be about the possible actions and decisions a human being who is stripped of his role can take.” 1

In the post-war period existentialism filtered through to all areas of main line contemporary thinking, and a common concern for explaining the place of man within the sphere of things developed. Jean-Paul Sartre (the philosophy’s greatest exponent) took the texts of Soren Kierkergaard and Martin Heidegger and re-evaluated and added to a contemporary philosophy of existentialism. Other existentialists include Genet, Camus, Beckett, Ponge, Ponty and Simone de Beauvoir (partner of Sartre.) Beauvoir defined existentialism’s appeal to the French Post-war society:

“The masses had lost their faith in peace, in progress, they had discovered history in its most terrible form, they needed an ideology which would include such relationships without forcing them to jettison their old excuses. Existentialism forced them to accept their transitory condition without renouncing a certain absolute, to face horror and absurdity whilst still retaining their human dignity, to preserve their individuality.” 2

The post war climate introduced a new and devastating dimension for the individual and world politics:

”The first half of the century ended at Hiroshima, the second half began with gravest doubts about the human species being around to record its end.”3

The two halves of the century also mirrored a division in the French arts. Before the war surrealism was the popular mode of expression, but the occupation soon changed this, after the liberation, the call to begin again was embodied both in existential literature and the arts. This call perhaps overpowered the continuation of previous debates. It was a new beginning with

“Everything essential still left to be defined.” 4


Existentialism is a complex philosophy; in its time it was perhaps

“A climate of opinion rather than a coherent philosophy.” 5

This was largely due to the many different facets of the philosophy that refused definition in a brief text. Sartre’s first existential text “Being and Nothingness” was published in 1943 and it was read for a decade after this date.

“For those dauntless enough to take on the work, a healthy amount of time was needed to wrestle the beast into submission and digest something of what is purported to offer in the way of contemporary wisdom.” 6

This excerpt describes the complexity of coming to terms with existentialism and it questions the true depth any individual can achieve in exploring existentialism through the use of a text.

Sartre followed the 650-page text with a discussion entitled “Existentialism and Humanism” that perhaps defined the text in an easier mode of discussion. It is essential at this point to tackle some of the key points of existentialism, not only to get a flavour of the philosophy, but so that we can also evaluate the extent of which existentialism influenced the artists we shall study.

Sartre’s existentialism was devoid of religion and god. His explanation (Or replacement) for the absence of a higher creator was the term

“Existence precedes essence.” 7

Sartre made no attempt to explain the meaning of man’s existence, however he provided an alternate solution to man’s questioning of the origin of his creation. The post war period was a time of evaluation in every mode of belief. For many, religion did not encompass the answers society needed considering such atrocities. The importance of political alignment became crucial. Existentialism’s ideas about the self-governing individual compared directly to the socialist ideas of communism. During the post war era Sartre became more and more aligned to the communist ideal, this questioned his motives contained within his texts, it also puts a shadow of doubt on his relation to art:

“Sartre’s alignment with the French communist party involved disturbing silences in regard to previous editorial exposes of Soviet labour camps and the communist party position on art, the strict social realist campaign.” 8

The centre of Sartre’s existentialism lay in the phrase “Existence precedes essence,” it means that we exist before we are consciously aware that we are alive. We then achieve the realisation that we exist and define ourselves subsequently, perhaps searching for the meaning of our existence at this point, and falling short of an adequate explanation.

Sartre described it as:

“Man first exists, encounters himself then surges up in the world and defines himself afterward.” 9

This countered the existence of god, the heart of Sartre’s argument lies in man’s need for an explanation to existence that was consumed but not explained by the belief in god. Sartre explained there is not a higher entity that has created us, as we would create an object, we just simply exist then need to explain that existence. This assumption left society without the constraining elements of religion and damnation. Would it be a place without positive constraint, morality and a law-abiding civilisation? Sartre’s answer to this was

“If existence is prior to essence, then existentialism puts every man in possession of himself and places the entire responsibility for his existence upon his shoulders. He is not just responsible for himself, but responsible for all men.” 10

This notion attempted to place the concept of man being totally responsible for himself and controlling his future with constant regard to the future of society. This was perhaps a calculated thought (And perhaps idealistic) considering the consuming guilt of the war, if every man took responsibility for their actions, instead of answering to a higher command, would there have even been a war? With this responsibility one should fashion ones own existence, as you believe man ought to be, making a commitment on behalf of mankind.

“There is no reality except in action. Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realises himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.” 11

This reinforces Sartre’s notion of man being totally responsible for himself. If man does not attempt to achieve the things that he should, then there is no proof of his existence and he has failed to give his individual life meaning, which is every mans need and desire.

Art and Existentialism

How do these points of existentialism relate so closely to the production of the arts? If we summarise the main points of existentialism in relation to the practice of the artist, we shall see that there is quite a close relationship between the two.

“Man’s consciousness is subjective and can never become aware of itself objectively, except through the gaze of the ‘Other’. If other people function as mirrors, so too can the work of art” 12

This is Sartre’s position on the use of the artwork in existential terms. He has placed great importance to the practical ‘use’ of art to society. However, the broader relationship to existentialism is not as simple.

It puts every man in control of his life, shaping himself as he wishes society to be, the artist standing before a blank canvas has the opportunity to completely control a portion of the output of his existence more than any other individual. The objects he creates are contributions to the culture of society, and with his art he is attempting to shape society in the fashion he sees fit. “There is no reality except in action”, speaks directly to the artist, assuring him that unless you create what you should there is no justification to your existence. Existentialism’s relation to art from these terms seems to be through the definitive use of art to benefit society. It is art’s benefit to existentialism that raises doubts about genuine motives.

The individual is nothing but the sum of his actions:

“This does not imply that an artist is to be judged solely by his works of art, for a thousand other things contribute no less to his definition as a man.” 13

Sartre says that man is judged by everything that he does not just his individual actions. However, it’s Sartre’s use of the artist as an example of the strongest form of an individual representing their actions that depicts the artist in such a strong light in comparison to the ideology of existentialism.

“Does anyone ever reproach an artist when he paints a picture for not following rules a priori? As everyone knows there is no predefined picture for him to make.” 14

This quote shows us how Sartre related the artist to the essence of existential ideals- “existence precedes essence.”

These comments could be seen as pure speculation on the relationship of the philosophy to the arts. Nevertheless it was Heidegger who defined a philosophical relationship to the arts that Sartre appropriated. This excerpt does not specifically talk about the production of the arts as proof of authentic existence. However when you read the text it seems that the ideology of the artist fits perfectly into Heidegger’s theory of authentic existence:

“The root of man’s anxieties is his intensity to feel and know that he exists... and although his fate is to die, he can triumph over his anguish that the whole is meaningless, by inventing purposes and projects, which will put meaning upon himself and upon the world of objects: all meaningless otherwise and in themselves. There is no reason why man should do this apart from gaining the authentic knowledge that he exists: but this is exactly his desire. Not many are capable of thus authenticating their existence.” 15

Kierkergaard (who also influenced Sartre in terms of existential art) commented on the relationship of art and existence. He thought that anyone who was not either religious or an artist must have been a fool. It is the comparison between religion and art that highlights the importance of art. Religion allows the individual no concern about the meaning of existence and the other is perhaps concerned with illustrating our existence consciously or unconsciously, thus providing a focus.

The relationship of art to existentialism could be discussed in a purely theoretical term for the entire length of this dissertation. It is unfortunate there is not space for an in-depth review of the role art plays purely in a theoretical sense. The discussion of existentialism above must be remembered to be very limited, not only in the depth of the investigation, but also in the date the text was written as existentialism evolved through the following decade paticularly in its political stance. I have tried to analysed texts very close to the post war period in the hope of corresponding the date of the works to the depth of existentialism, I think I have superficially proved that a relationship exists between existentialism and the arts.

History has been quick to associate this period of work with the philosophy of existentialism and it is only through the following investigation that we shall find out if history is justified.

Investigative Problems

The following investigation presents many problems that have to be broken down before we can genuinely make assumptions about the artists relation to existentialism.

How correct is it to call an artist an existential artist?

It is difficult to distinguish, in light of the French post war mood, what was promotion of fashionable existentialism and what was perhaps the more genuine embodiment of an individual's feeling or the mood of the genre.

It is important to point out at this stage that calling an artist existential is insensitive to the artists concerns. It is perhaps a statement that fails to consider all aspects of an artist’s work; I have primarily tried to ascertain whether some form of relationship did exist within the artist’s work. It is only through this detailed examination that we shall eventually understand the extent to which existentialism affected the artists.

Is it correct to call the artists work representations of the existential philosophy?

For example: If you produce art that abides to the ideals of existentialism, you are not embodying true feelings about yourself. You are only producing work that promotes a philosophy; in consciously representing that philosophy it would be difficult to encapsulate more than one philosophical ideal genuinely. Each work would be singular in its content and one dimensional as its objective would not be a truthful concern of the artist. It would merely be a weak representation of the existential philosophy and a weak artwork, neither genuine in either genre. Ths only art we could define, as being existential without concern for pigeon holing the artist, would be art that used existentialism as its conscious generator for production.

A specific example would be to promote one aspect of the existential philosophy in a work of art, e.g. the isolation of man and his anguish because of this isolation. If I represented this notion it would show us how isolated man was within the world. However, if I tried to show how isolated I was, I would be dealing with true feelings that attain themselves to me, yet also refer to existentialism at the same time, this is the more genuine relationship. These feelings can be used as reflections of existentialism, but not representations of the philosophy. If this occurs the artist has made a genuine reflection of that philosophy, albeit in hindsight. 16

There are many artists who I think have chosen the easier path of depicting existentialism (perhaps through narrative or style) than there have been representations of individual expression about reality that mirrors existentialism.

Examining the artists would show us the artists who were representing over depicting and eventually reveal the common aspects these artists have. The outcome of that commonality would reveal the genuine relationship between art and existentialism. Once we have discovered this point we can examine relationships that are not limited to existentialism or post war Paris and are concerned solely in the production of the arts.

First a broad investigation into the connection between existential artists’ works is essential to reveal the true elements of the origin of their work that is commonly captivating. Was it the era, the artists’ frailty, or was it existentialism (despite my hypothesis) itself that drove these artists to produce compositions that were so close to mirroring human existence?

Tate: Paris Post war - Art and Existentialism 1945-55

In 1993 the Tate gallery held an exhibition entitled “Paris Post War- Art And Existentialism 1945-55” and it is from this exhibition that I have chosen to investigate the artists’ link to existentialism. Historically this exhibition brought together a group of artists that represent a forgotten era in the development of the French art scene.

The choice for the artists supposedly within the exhibition was an attempt to build a more in depth investigation on a broader exhibition at the Barbican Centre: “Aftermath: France 1945-54.”

The reason I have chosen to use the artists from this exhibition is due to the difficulty in ascribing an artist to the philosophy of existentialism and to cut down on the over long text that I would need to justify these artists relation to existentialism.

We can never be certain of artists' intentions; the justification for a choice of an artist is perhaps more hearsay than fact.

Due to the length of this thesis, the investigation into a few artists in depth would reveal more relevant information, than an investigation over a broad topic area, although the artists I choose shall not be without justification. The exhibition organiser cannot be trusted to make a truly objective decision without the commercial worry of gaining a large enough audience; we must examine the justification for the inclusion of each artist before we can use them. For example: the inclusion of Picasso within this exhibition seems to me to be a token commercial offering, that immediately questions the motives of the other artist's inclusion within the exhibition. (See fig.1)

The Artists

The other artists in the Tate exhibition are: Antonin Artaud, Jean DuBuffet, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Fautrier, Wols, Bram van Velde, Jean Helion, Henri Michaux, Germaine Richier and Francis Gruber. (See fig.2)

It is in the following text that we need to exclude the artists who do not need further investigation into their motives. To me art has to encapsulate more than an element of the existential philosophy to be associated as a link, the work should deny singular comparison to the philosophy and encompasses elements that refused to be defined in words thus becoming an equal to existentialism, due to the similarity generated by a harmony of ideals.

A lot of these artists did have a personal relationship with existentialism perhaps directly or indirectly: They may have been involved within the existential social scene, or may have had a direct involvement with existentialism, but there are questions that still remain to be answered; What is the commonality between these artists and in terms of representing existentialism how genuine are they?

Jean Fautrier made representations of hostages that were based on the wartime torture and summary executions of prisoners, which he heard every night from his living quarters. (See fig.3) They were seen as extraordinary in their production. The paintings were layered very thickly without direct concern for realism. In this way they were images never seen before, paintings that broke down the rules of aesthetics know at that time. However, I feel that these images and the motifs behind representing these images can only be superficially existential. The most prominent element of Fautrier’s work that could be deemed existential is his use of his medium, due to the “newness” of the approach. The narrative within Fautrier’s work is too specific to be concerned with a higher element of existence within the grand sphere of things. 17

Dubuffet made scenes of urban and domestic life in a consciously naive style. (See fig.4) Dubuffet appears to be more consciously aware of existentialism than Fautrier and his narratives suggest a wider representation of existence. DuBuffet announced he was a self-confessed convert to existentialism- the critics noticed his original approach and linked it to the new existential literature. Dubuffet’s work in this context appears to be ascribed to existentialism due to its style rather than the content and depiction of his work. Dubuffet thought

“Art should go to the roots of mental activity, where thought is close to its birth” 18

This compares directly to the breakdown of mans thought within existentialism. He investigated this notion by purchasing and studying art by schizophrenic artists and copying their naive style.

These are elements of Dubuffets work that could be defined as concerned with existential ideals, however I feel that an in-depth investigation into his work would reveal more about arts relationship to society than Dubuffets artistic relationship to existentialism. It seems to me that he adopted the philosophy considering the fashion of the day. If it were something that his beliefs originally paralleled, he wouldn’t have felt the need to announce that he had adopted the philosophy. It seems that in having done this his work cannot be taken as genuine representations of his own art that reflects existentialism. There are more aspects of this work that are concerned purely with the method of production of art, than there are that share the concerns of existentialism. Jean Helion’s work shows a similarity in its concerns, it also comments on art more than existence.

Helion produced paintings that were primarily concerned with abstraction, his pre-war work was similar to Mondrian’s hard-edged abstraction, and it was the change of direction in his post-war work that caused a stir. The work consisted of abstracted forms that were imposed on figures and it seems now that Helion is remembered for his attacks on the conventions of art primarily within the hierarchy of abstraction, than for his work. (See fig.5)

His inclusion within the Tate exhibition I think is primarily due to the paintings resonance of the 40’s and 50’s. At first glance the paintings’ seem to be purely aesthetic, but after further investigation the paintings reveal a narrative that could be associated with existential fiction. The figures in the plays of Beckett have a particular similarity to Helion’s figures; they both exist in mediocre yet somewhat unusual and disturbing situations. In Helion’s words his narratives concern themselves with

“The extraordinary within the banal. The mystery of ordinary things.” 19 (See fig.5)

The themes occurring within Helion’s work also relates to a depraved society, the simple things like loaves of bread, become symbols of post war poverty and destitution. (See fig.6) The figures appear to be alienated and living in isolation oblivious of each other’s existence. (See fig.5) These narratives reflect deeply with the social condition that existed and created existentialisms’ popularity, however there is no direct link to existentialism outside of the similarity between these narratives. Helion’s work was symbolist in a surreal manner of the condition he saw existing in post-war France. Sartre discarded the notion of surrealism as having:

“A preoccupation with the unconscious and not the totality of man.” 20

This provides a key to Helion’s relationship to his depiction of existence. I think Helion was concerned with the unconscious human condition of the post-war era, but not in the depiction of the totality of mans’ existence that existentialism attempted to describe. Helion does not present himself as having a multi-layered relationship to existentialism.

Henri Michaux produced a series of paintings in an intense period of activity after his wife died. (See fig.7) To Michaux his experience of pain and suffering was the key to the production of his art.

“It is through pain and other extreme states that the individual can most effectively break through the protective armour of conventional behaviour, through to intensely personal primordial mental states.” 21

Francis Bacon commented on Michaux’s use of mark:

“I think Michaux is a very intelligent man and conscious man, who is aware of exactly the situation he is in. I think that he has made the best free marks that have ever been made, it is more factual; it suggests more. His paintings have always been about delayed ways of remaking the human image, through a mark which is totally outside an illustrational mark but yet always conveys you back to the human image.” 22

Through Michaux’s image you experience an image or mark that as Bacon describes as unconventional. It means nothing, yet aspects of it revert you back to the image of human physical appearance. It seems that Michaux’s images connect with the ideals that existentialism is associated with. A meaningless sphere of existence (existentialism) / meaningless marks, (Michaux) which compares to Human existence (existentialism) / the human image (Michaux). I think that this similarity exists as an equality of ideal, not due to the period, but due to Michaux. The link between existentialism and Michaux would certainly benefit from further investigation.

A similar artist, whom I also feel would benefit from further investigation, is Wols. 23

But unlike other artists we have already assessed, he did not produce his work in conscious reference to the history of painting or any other concept; his images were much more genuine:

“My pictures are not a revolt against anything, in spite of misery, poverty and the fear of becoming blind one day, I love life.” 24 (See fig.8)

In the second half of this quotation Wols reveals his concerns with his existence. He was an alcoholic, who died prematurely in 1951, he found release from his life in nature:

“It made me forget about human pretensions, invited me to turn my back on the chaos of our goings-on, showed me eternity.” 25(See fig.8 a] )

Wols images appear to be microscopic structures of life seen under a microscope, or distant planets seen from a telescope. (See fig.8 b] ) It was Sartre himself who recorded that

“Wols is seeing the Earth with inhuman eyes, he visualises our universal horror of being in the world.” 26 (See fig.8 c])

Sartre made comparisons between his existential novel ‘Nausea’ and Wols’ alarm at the world. Nausea’s main character continually writes in his diary about the changes he sees occurring around him in the “World of objects” and the nausea he experiences from the objects that become increasingly alien. Wols attempt to see the world through different eyes was almost an attempt at perceiving our world objectively. The works are almost like the creation of another world and existence, that is no less believable or absurd than our existence. It is when the individual is confronted with this fact in comparison to these images that the question of our existence comes to the forefront of our minds. Wols compares directly to the existential perception of the world. He encapsulates the existential philosophy within his work and at the same time investigates places existentialism does not touch.

It is this shared sensibility between Wols and Michaux- the knowledge and expression of perceiving the world through human eyes that is expressed more solidly in the work of Giacometti. Giacometti does not need to be justified as an existential artist, as he has been unavoidably associated with existentialism and his work has been termed as representations of “Existential man.”


What is the commonality between these artist’s? Most of these artists were conciously or unconciously responding to the effects of the war on their way of life, although some were not consciously doing this, like contemporary artists today are not consciously representing the onset of the millennium, however whatever affects society in its outlook, also affect its individuals indirectly. I think the ascribing of some of these artists to be existential after investigation is incorrect, as they were responding to their environment not the philosophy, the term existential is an easy way of pigeon holing a group of artists that refused to be defined within a group. Some of the artists' refuse such a black or white decision about their involvement to the philosophy, the true commonality between these artists in reference to existentialism is the individuality of approach these artists had, more than any conscious individual representation of the philosophy.

“Non-style, has itself become a style” 27

Some of the artists have been deemed existential due to their chosen isolation and the affect this had on their activity. Perhaps one of the strongest icons within existential literature was the image of the “outsider”. The outsider gained a visceral view of life and society due to their isolation and their ability to observe more objectively than the involved individual. However when this is applied to the arts I feel it becomes a cliché more than proof of an individuals existential motives.

“The outsider may be an artist, but the artist is not necessarily an outsider.” 28

Further Study

I think the artists who need further investigation are Giacometti, Wols and Michaux. (See fig.9) Jean Helion presents an interesting representation of the philosophy that could be seen as more literal interpretations, however I feel his works pale in the comparison to the perceived world of Wols and Giacometti. The other artists who I have discussed in this text are perhaps artists that embodied the scene of existentialism and may have even been worth investigating in their relation to existentialism, however I feel that their work was not strong enough to justify investigation, or their work was concerned with other ideals that present themselves more readily. These artists are: Gruber, DuBuffet and Fautrier.

Other artists I have not even attempted to include, I feel would take a large proportion of this essay to justify their inclusion and due to exactly this fact they do not present themselves as being particularly concerned with the ideals between art and existentialism: Artaud, Picasso, Richier and Van Velde. (Velde was linked to existentialism more than the category I have placed him defines; however his work denies a formal interpretation) It is here that we meet several points that must be assessed before we can continue to discuss the links between existentialism and art.

Now we have found genuine artists that reflect ideals of existentialism in their work, we can gain a more rounded view of existentialism’s relation to art. However, we must remember to only reflect between the relationship of art and existentialism.


The painter and sculptor- Alberto Giacometti had undeniable links within the “Existential scene”. Sartre and Genet, who both wrote literary works about him, embraced his work: Sartre with “The quest for the absolute” and Genet with “The studio of Alberto Giacometti”.

Sartre also wrote about Wols work and it is surprising that only Sartre identified these artists out of the eleven on an existential level. It is perhaps the link between Wols, Giacometti and Michaux that needs further investigation to see what shared relationship these artists hold toward existentialism, it is the discovery of this association that will perhaps reveal the genuine relationship of art to existentialism or the genuine representation of existence within art.

Is it true that because of an artist’s personal relationship to the philosophy, the output of their work can be called existential in a philosophical sense? Does this involvement mean that Giacometti was an exponent of the existential philosophy? Or was he an artist merely representing his vision? We cannot be sure what his objectives were which makes the involvement of Giacometti a key relationship to the breakdown of the artist's relationship to existentialism, or the genuine representation of existence within art.

Part II - Giacometti and Existentialism


“Why do we create?

Michaux said: ‘To get out of the chaos’

Genet said: ‘To be loved’

Nabakov said: ‘To drive back the beast’ “

- From the film ‘The sexual life of the Belgians.’




In an interview with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester talked about the tendencies that occur when interpreting an artist’s work. In particular Giacometti’s figures, which have been interpreted as “existential man”, something that Giacometti found crass. 29

Giacometti always emphasised that his work was not concerned with existentialism, 30 however this does not mean that a relationship did not exist: directly or indirectly.

Was Giacometti work just the representation of existential philosophy? Or was he representing his existence? Can Giacometti's work be used as a truthful reflection of existentialism?

All of these points of investigation can only be answered by looking in-depth at Giacometti’s character, then comparing him side by side to the production of his work and the representations that art reveals to us. It is only through this examination that we will discover if Giacometti is truthful to himself or existentialism, and at the same time find out if Giacometti’s art can be used to enlighten existentialism. Could it be that to call Giacometti’s figures existential was perhaps a sweeping statement, yet it contained an element of truth?

The link between Giacometti and existentialism can be traced back to Jean Paul Sartre. He wrote about Giacometti in his texts as an example of an artist authenticating their existence.

However the style of existential art or art that defined itself as existential was a contradiction.

“Sartre offered an implicit call to artists to make art without preconceptions; to define themselves.” 31

So from Sartre’s point of view, artists should not make art about existentialism, they should make art about their own existence, perhaps using existentialism as a tool to unlock the representation of existence. However this statement cannot be taken as the literal truth,

“Sartre approaches art with an open mind, but seeks always to fit his findings into the philosophical scheme of things.” 32

So even though Sartre called on artists to make work about themselves, he would still fit their work in his texts into his philosophy, when it was not necessarily concerned with existentialism. It is from the discovery of this point that we understand why the intentions of the artists of the post-war period have become so confused with existentialism.


Giacometti first rose to prominence in the 20’s it was here that he was involved within the surrealist movement. However it was during the late 30’s he became convinced that surrealism was not satisfying his concerns and he showed a desire to return to what he regarded as

“Contemporary sculptures real problem- the recreation of the human face”. 33

For Giacometti’s peers within the surrealist movement, it was quite a shocking transition from surrealism to the life model. (See fig.10) One of his colleagues commented “Everyone knows what a head is” but in Giacometti’s opinion no one had succeeded in representing a valid human appearance, the whole thing had to be started again from scratch. 34 It was the desire to begin again that earmarked the work of the French post war scene.

If we take Sartre to be the advocate for existentialism, particularly in his relationship with Giacometti, we can learn a lot from the documents about their relationship. Sartre and Giacometti were friends and Sartre promoted Giacometti, not directly as an existential artist, but the essays he wrote about Giacometti’s work had a definite existential flavour.

Giacometti and Sartre formally met in 1941 during the occupation:

“There was a deep bond of understanding between him and Sartre, they had both staked everything on one obsession. Literature in Sartre’s case, art in Giacometti’s and it was hard to decide which one of them was more fanatical”. 35

This excerpt from the memoirs of Sartre’s partner- Simone de Beauvoir hints at the equality of the relationship between both Sartre and Giacometti, this could also be a clue to the true equality of the relationship between existentialism and Giacometti.

Giacomettis Concerns

Giacometti seemed to suffer from an irrepressible form of agoraphobia; in fact he seemed to have many concerns that interfered with his everyday life and ultimately fed through to his artwork. His fears about spaces and other beings are perhaps two concerns that lead us directly to his paintings and sculptures.

“His real concern with his work was to defend himself against the infinite and terrifying emptiness of space”. 36

It was this attraction and repulsion to space that created one of his motives for creating his works. 37 (See fig. 12)

Whenever he painted or sculpted a figure he always asked the sitter to look him directly in the eye. Giacometti thought that the only sign of existence in the physical make-up of the figure lay in the eyes. This difference between existence and a dead object needed to be affirmed by Giacometti. He needed to prove that others existed and record it within his work. (See fig.12) James Lord (said this was exactly why he worked the way he did)

“Alberto was working to demonstrate that he was alive.” 38

“People seem like ants, like men who come and go in the street...a completely foreign species, mechanical.” 39

Giacometti expresses here the alienating experience that occurs when you are surrounded by human life and swamped by what seems like faces without meaning and purpose; the bare reality of human existence. This compares directly to the isolation of what Sartre called ‘Nothingness’ in which

"human reality carries with itself the nothing which separates it’s present from all the past.” 40

Giacometti himself described his perception of people during one period of his life.

“I started seeing living heads within the void, the head that I was watching became closed off and immobile in an instant, it was no longer a living head but an object- something alive and dead simultaneously. I cried out in terror, as if I were entering a world never seen before. All living beings were dead, in the metro, in the restaurant, with my friends.” 41

For Giacometti

“Seeing was the equivalent of being”42

You sense he is attempting to observe something beyond the shallow depths of human identity. Instilling with great intensity the living human face that represents us all. (See fig.12) When we consider his paintings, drawings and sculptures we can see his solid vision of attempting to pin down the living form in the medium of his choice. (See fig.13) The forms seem to be in direct relationship with the space around them, like Giacometti’s concerns about open spaces.

Giacometti’s Work

Giacometti insisted that he rendered what he saw, he had no other motive. It was his attempt to record that total vision and represent his fears about existence that perhaps echo’s the existential philosophy. Giacometti represents a primordial aspect of viewing or observing, recording the rawness, the bones of existence.

“The existent individual will be he who has the intensity of feeling because he is in contact with something outside of himself.” 43

This point is taken from a discussion on the roots of existentialism; it parallels Giacometti’s character and his comments about feeling outside of society or beyond the social situation he was within. It was this contact with something outside of himself that made him try and record his vision of a reality that was detached from the interference of the human eye and brain. His task represents the attempt to peel back the layers of observed human existence, to find the truth behind reality. This was the same objective as the existential writers. They reduced existence to bare necessity, to attempt to reveal the significance of existence, or the poignant moments of life.

Giacometti’s attitude to his work can also be seen as having links with existentialism. 44


“Forced labour” 45

as Giacometti called it, the squalid state of his studio and working conditions created an image of the driven artist who despite fame, abandons material comforts for the quest of his goal. (See fig.14)

“Giacometti did not give a damn for success or reputation or money; all he wanted was to carry through his own ideals”. 46

Giacometti was also fuelled by his failure in the quest for creating his vision. He would often destroy his sculptures;

”Whatever he did by day, he smashed up at night and vice versa, one day he piled all the sculptures in his studio onto a handcart and went off and tipped them into the Seine.” 47

Sartre associated the sculptures that Giacometti destroyed with transiency:

“Never was substance less eternal, more fragile, more nearly human.” 48 (See fig.15)

This fact alone leads us to believe that perhaps Sartre thought Giacometti had made a modern synthesis of modern man with values that parralled the existential ideal of existence. His observed perception of human existence and the unexplainable finite existence hints at the existential ideology, this is one explanation of Giacometti’s destruction of his figures. However, I feel Sartre’s interpretation of this is somewhat poetic and he is fitting Giacometti’s nature into his philosophical scheme of things. This was Giacometti’s method; he was striving for the unattainable. Giacometti destroyed his work if it failed in its objectives, which it invariably did. 49

It was the paradox of continual acknowledged failure that kept Giacometti striving for unattainable success. He said of his method:

“If I knew how to make one, I would make them by the thousands.” 50

However we know this was not true, Giacometti’s failure in a task that was unattainable only spurred him on to see how close he could get to recording reality truthfully. The prospect of making a work that was closer to his goal also made him strive forth. For Giacometti failure was as important as success and as the years went by, the boundaries between failure and success became increasingly blurred.

“I do not know whether I work in order to make something or in order to know why I cannot make what I would like to make.” 51

Giacometti knew he was trying to achieve the unachievable; yet he would fall short way above the place where other artists would deem “Unachievable”. For Giacometti it was not the destination but the journey that was important.

Simone de Beauvoir describes Giacometti’s working methods better than I.

“It was impossible to predict whether he would “Wring sculptures neck” or fail in his attempt to master space; but his struggling endeavours were per se more exciting than most other men’s successes.” 52

Assesing this information I feel Giacometti’s working methods were not linked to the existential philosophy. They were linked to Giacometti’s need to produce his work.

Giacometti and Existentialism

So, how closely can we use the term Giacometti and existentialism? There are too many coincidences between Giacometti’s production of art and the existential philosophy to say that the two are not linked. However, we have not defined in what way there is a link.

Sartre was particularly struck by Giacometti’s attempt to view the truth behind reality; it was something he had been striving to do also;

“Giacometti’s attitude was comparable to that of the phenomenologists.“ 53

This quote provides a clue to the relationship of Giacometti’s art and existentialism.

Phenomenology is a scientific branch of psychology that concerns itself with the study of perceptual facilities. It rejects abstract reasoning in favour of observation and description. It was used to describe the world of objects within which the consciousness perceives itself. Phenomenology was the basis of part of the existential philosophy. It was used in reference to perceiving existence and the world around us when looking in a special way i.e. the nose is always in the line of vision, but rarely recorded.

Phenomenology stated that there was no objectivity, as perception depended on a pre existent element of choice, which determines the form in which we perceive every phenomenon of which we become aware. 54

For instance: with this diagram you will either see a black Maltese cross or a white flower. The tendencies to perceive either one of these things could mean that you were military or horticultural minded. What is perceived is a tendency toward a certain goal or purpose. However, the existential phenomenologists attempted to describe things as they existed for other people removed from them. For instance they would attempt to describe things without any pre-existent influence or subjectivity coming between them, and the description of the things around them.

This is perhaps a close link between Giacometti and existentialism; his intense vision to illuminate reality in terms of a synthesis compares directly to the existential use of phenomenology.

The cross-referencing of Giacometti's observation and phenomenology shows us a close link between Giacometti and existentialism. So was Giacometti using some form of existential phenomenology in his art or representing his own vision? I don’t think the answer is as black or white as I have suggested. I think Giacometti can be used to illuminate existential phenomenology and the relationship to observation, there is a direct link between the two, however I dont think it is a conscious link. Giacometti was trying to represent what he saw due to concerns about his life; he needed to represent his vision to record his reality, as he was not always contained within our “Sphere of existence”.

He was not using phenomenology within his art, just representing his concerns, however this does not mean that he cannot be used to examine phenomenology within existentialism. This is perhaps the strongest link between existentialism and art, both ways of interpreting the real world.

“Ponge and Dubuffet were articulating important ideas about post war art long before Sartre’s first exhibition preface of 1946. Artists and writers were going back for phenomenological inspiration to the same sources as Sartre himself, without the philosophies mediation” 55

At the beginning of this section I posed the question “Was Giacometti just the representation of the existential philosophy or representing his existence?” I think from the evidence I have presented in the information above we can decide that Giacometti was truthful to himself he was not representing existentialism. This is shown by the equality of Giacometti and Sartre’s relationship, also the way that Giacometti’s concerns and fears filtered directly into his work. (These fears were genuine and were not the product of a relationship to existentialism.) In the bigger picture these concerns perhaps paralleled the notions that existentialism discussed; for example the isolation of man surrounded in meaningless space.

So, at this level there is a parallel between the core of Giacometti’s persona and the ideology of existentialism. Another fact that highlights the equality of the relationship was Sartre’s admiration for Giacometti’s attempt to view the truth behind reality; this was something Sartre had also attempted from a youth. It is Sartre’s use of phenomenology and Giacometti’s attempt to render what he saw (Which we have found parallels phenomenology) that leads us to believe that Giacometti can be seen as a truthful reflection of existentialism.

I think Giacometti was not an existentialist, he shared the same outlook on life and he asked the same questions the existentialists asked. Yet he chose to represent life exactly as he saw it, without abiding to the existential philosophy. Giacometti does not recreate. He just creates in an existential way. I think Sartre and Giacometti had independently evolved a similar way of understanding existence.

Are Giacometti’s figures existential? His figures do not relate directly to existentialism, which makes it more wrong to call them existential than it is correct. Therefore we cannot call them definitively existential, but for a greater understanding of the method of representing percieved existence within art, Giacometti can certainly be used as a study.

For a final examination of the relationship between existentialism and Giacometti, it would be interesting to superficially compare Giacometti to an artist who did use existentialism directly.

Bernard Buffet was a figurative artist, of the same period as Giacometti; he was very successful and perhaps cashed in on the popularity of existentialism and its style. Buffet created

“Literal interpretations of the gloomier and more superficial aspects of Sartre’s existentialist philosophy.” 56 (See fig.16)

If we make a visual comparison between Giacometti and Buffet, we can perhaps see the difference in depths of engagement between the two artists. Perhaps this is due to the difference in the artist’s objectives? Depicting existentialism is like reviewing a book so the reader doesn’t have to read the whole text. It falls short of the concerns the philosophy has to begin with, as it has a definite purpose.

Looking at the overall picture, I think we can gain a clearer understanding of existentialism when we consider Giacometti’s work; as long as we acknowledge the limitations and that his work can be used as a reflection (Not a depiction) of the same concerns that existentialism is associated to. By looking at Giacometti we can obtain a different view of existentialism, that is strong, and an equal to Sartre. Giacometti represents images of substance, rather than being a second to existentialism like Buffet. It is that shared understanding of existence that perhaps links the work of Wols, Giacometti and Michaux. The commonality between these artists would perhaps reveal a relationship to the core of existentialism that can be investigated outside of the post war era.

Part III - The Arts and Perception- Existentialism?


“It’s as if artworks were re-enacting the process where the subject becomes painfully into being.”

T.W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory

Part III - The Arts and Perception- Existentialism?


Throughout the examination between Giacometti and existentialism we have discovered that there are definite links that can be drawn between the philosophy and the production of art itself, the act of doing and seeing, but the content of the works can only be compared to parts of the philosophy, e.g. Giacometti's figures and the void- being and the separation into nothingness. (See fig.11) In this section I hope to investigate beyond that limited relationship, the symbiosis between a philosophy and the arts is unusual, the reason existentialism and the arts were so close, was not only due to the historical events but due to a shared concern about perceptual reality that art has always contained, that was focused firmly in the post war era particularly in reference to existence and the individual. This concern was reflected equally in philosophy, literature and the masses.

Existentialism and Contemporary Influence

The post war era was a flash point of concern about the fate of man and the individual purpose. This affected the following decades:

"The practice of art from world war two to the end of the eighties was dominated by ideas derived from phenomenology and existentialism. The post war period attributed to modernism, in the sense that it claimed that art was capable of reuniting with some lost essence and art was able, as well, to release hidden, heretofore unaccomplished potentialities in the human being" 57

This quote highlights the viability and existence of ideas associated with the artists we have chosen outside of post war existentialism.

Wols and Giacometti cannot be compared to artists outside their era in existential terms, as existentialism was definitely a philosophy that cannot transcend its point of creation, as it was firmly rooted and created within its time. However the shared sensibility between Giacometti and Wols can be compared to other artists.

Giacometti produced art that we have already discussed as relating to phenomenology. He carefully analysed reality, in an attempt to make the substance he was working with closer to the living being he was observing, rather than just an inanimate object.

Wols observed nature and created visions that are so far removed from normal perception, it feels as if we are observing through the eyes of an alien or animal, this makes us immediately question our vision of reality. It is the empathy of a perception detached from our own that reverts us to questioning our 'sphere of existence'. It is this "phenomenology of perception" that Giacometti and Wols represent within their work almost like a tool to questioning or recording their perceived world.

It is the perception of reality that is an artist's primary concern, and that concern seems to be able to impart questions of existence without the barriers of words or politics, due to its direct submergence within the gaze of the viewer, it is this same gaze that tells the viewer about the reality around them.

"In art we experience a wholeness derived elsewhere. The mirror of art provides a vision of the whole which direct empirical observation cannot give." 58

The use of perception within art shares an ideal with existentialism, yet it is stronger within the arts than in existentialism and any relationship between the two would develop primarily from the arts. This means that an investigation into the relationship of artist's observation and what is perceived, outside of the existential era would be legitimate as it is a concern that has its strength and originates from within the arts- before and after the development of existentialism.

Cezanne To Arikha- Existential perception not limited to existentialism.

In this section I hope to superficially demonstrate the existence of artists dealing with perception before and after existentialism, art that historically seems to have made possible due to existentialism, however the art we have found to be genuine existed already outside of the philosophy as a natural confrontation with perceived reality. Not as a product based on discourses about phenomenology.

The post war period points back to Cezanne as the father of phenomenological perception. Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote about Cezanne in his book "The Phenomenology Of Perception". (He wrote about artists in relation to existentialism before Sartre's texts on Wols and Giacometti)

"Painting was his world and his existence, anxiety was the basis of his character, Cezanne proved to be the model of asceticism, his life work doomed to failure, as a saint is doomed to imperfection. Cezanne wished to paint a primordial world with an emphasis on the immediate translation of sensation." 59 (See fig.17)

This shows a similarity to Giacometti's 'existential graft of constant failure, at the attempt of recording the translation of what is truly perceived.

Cezanne painted the Mont Ste Victoire time and time again without conceiving one version as the definite representation. (See fig.18) His repeated effort to record what he perceived failed repeatedly, yet he still tried to translate what he saw before him directly into paint.

"He was a self made painter, one not presented with facility but a man who has to painfully uncover his talent and find the means to give shape to his ideals." 60

It is the combination of several points that leads Cezanne to paint in the way that has been described, his devotion to painting and his concerns fed into his work just like it did in Giacometti's. It seems that the similarity between Cezanne and Giacometti perhaps provides the mould for perceptual art. There needs to be a confrontation with reality something that makes the artist have a heightened awareness of his situation directly with in the world around him.

"He had indeed a relationship with the acceptance of the validity and truth of immediate perception. His grappling with the intensity of his sensational impressions was one source of his creative agony." 61

Just like Giacometti Cezanne speaks of instilling what is before him with concentrated observation that is doomed to failure:

"Painting is not only to copy the object, it is to seize a harmony between numerous relations." 62

In this text I have referred Giacometti to Cezanne as a point of reference, however the relationship existed primarily in reverse. Giacometti was a great admirer of Cezanne:

"What motivated Giacometti to develop was Cezanne’s practice of requiring many posing sessions for a portrait, his persistent dissatisfaction with results and his belief that a work of art could never be really finished." 63

Here we see the influence of Cezanne to Giacometti and it is perhaps an influence that should resonates among all artists working in terms of perception. There is a commonalty of concern shown between these artists that represent art dealing with existence in the only way it can, through perception.

At the other end of this century the artist Avigdor Arikha also showed a similarity of concern. He painted still life through the seventies after rejecting abstraction. (See fig.19) Just like Ponty and Giacometti guide us toward Cezanne, Samuel Beckett points us toward Arikha. 64

Arikha rejected abstraction, as he had not linked "the act of painting to the fact of seeing" 65

His work represents the process of observing and conscious examination of the method of production. "To draw reality is to examine thought itself" 66

It is the process of drawing Arikha lays bare for us as an examination of what is perceived. (See fig.20)

"Arikha has inverted the statement of conventional realism: 'this is what I see' becomes 'is this what I see?'

The observation and recording process is enough in itself to confront questions of existence:

"Since I regard art as the echo of being in its most elemental sense, I see the role of observation subject to a sort of igniting power, it is a search for facts, but one cannot through that alone, achieve a truly faithful portrait, more is needed to achieve that, which is much more than just measuring." 67

It is the instilling of a number of relationships that leads to something beyond mere recording and observation.

"His non-alignment with modern movements and his solitary dedication to pictorial empiricism links Arikha’s work most closely to another independent, Alberto Giacometti. Both after working in modern idiom's surrealism for Giacometti and abstraction for Arikha- have changed to an intense involvement with directly perceived reality and its realisation of its essence in their art." 68 (See fig.21)

This quote highlights the point I made previously about Giacometti and Cezanne becoming the mould for existence represented in art via perception.

Existentialism and Perception

It is this link from Cezanne via Giacometti to Arikha that reveals how perceptual art that confronts questions of reality consciously existed separate from existentialism. This highlights how Giacometti was seen as an existential artist working existentially when he was in fact only working in the way artists have been working before and after existentialism. Arikha shows a very similar life style and concerns as Giacometti, yet he has not been linked to any form of philosophy or movement. It is this fact that highlights that Giacometti could have worked in the way he did without reference to existentialism, yet it was the conjunction in history between the arts and existentialism that labeled Giacometti 'existential'

As an artist you cannot avoid coming into contact with the perception of reality, however it is the artists who strive to define that perception of reality that are confronting direct questions about the relation of the individual to existence. This is the same ideology that existentialism is based upon; the individual's action concerning existence.

Existentialism defined the production of art as proof of authentic existence. The highest form of artist I have found grouped in the existential bracket were those individuals that were mainly concerned with the perception of the world: Giacometti with his attempts to create a synthesis of the world as an affirmation of existence through the proof of an artistic record. Wols perceived nature in the eyes of an alien- as if he had never seen the world before. These artists show us that the only way that anything that can be identified with the term existential can only enter the arts genuinely through "perception of the world". This confirms that the other artists like Dubuffet and Helion perhaps created records of painting history more than genuine representations of the individual response to existence, that transcend the philosophy.

However this leaves an enigma: to refer back to the arts that show a similarity of concern to existentialism is inadequate, as it is not viable to relate contemporary thought to an earlier point in history, as the same contemporary thought resulted as a direct development from that original point.

Philosophy and the arts are two separate concerns that to be genuine in either area have to remain separate. When an event like the war occurs that pushes the two genres together, the genuine aspects of the production of art become questionable and difficult to separate. At the beginning of this essay I intended to investigate how existence is represented within the arts. I have found that genuine representations are made by perception either through direct observation or perceptions within the viewers mind. The works that are not associated with making the mind question what is truly perceived, fail in evoking notions that associate themselves with the existence of man.

Wols and Michaux shared this relationship to what is perceived in the mind. Wols alienates the viewer making him question what he truly sees, Michaux shows us how the mind can never perceive anything but itself, as we always transform the object in our sphere of existence into a purpose, we relate what is around us to the meaning it has on our life. We revert the image of man onto meaningless marks

These artists show us we can never escape our own existence long enough to perceive reality truthfully. Giacometti seems to have attempted to escape the unquestioning gaze of a human being, to try and record what he sees truthfully. This he does instead of allowing the individual to question what is perceived (like the art of Wols). Giacometti already questions what he sees and attempts to record it from the point where he questions the true perception of everything. It is as if Giacometti is recording exactly the point the viewer of Wols work realises. It is here that we see that the art of Wols, Michaux and Giacometti differs in their output, yet share the same concern but they are making different representations at different points on the same notion of perceived perception. (See fig.9)

This reveals to us that the genuine representations of questions of existence from the individual (In terms of existentialism) can only be made through the use of perception, perception that exists throughout this century’s art and is not limited to the Existential era and therefore not limited to Existentialism.


I feel now assessing this information that existentialism throughout this dissertation has not presented a single strong link to the production of art in the post war era.

There are symbiotic links between the mode of thought between the arts and the philosophy, but the link does not genuinely go beyond the mode of thought. To produce a genuine artwork the artist must focus his total attention on what is totally perceived in artistic terms. Any less or differing focus results in a work that is weak- as it has a purpose, and art that has genuine concerns does not have a purpose, it deals with a translation of one element into another. In this case the translation of perception or sensation is perhaps the strongest form of conveyance the artist can achieve.

To refer to this art as existential I feel is inadequate, existentialism acted as a catalyst to the production of work concerned with existence, all different types of work were produced that would not have normally been concerned with existence, however it was only the work of artists concerned with perception that was not totally eclipsed by existentialism.

Ideals associated with existentialism only exist in the work of artists dealing with the perception of reality, however the art associated with perceiving reality has existed before and after the existential era, so comparisons to existentialism can only genuinely be made in this time period. Outside of that period, even though we know that we can relate it to existentialism it becomes something separate. It is no longer as relevant to relate it to existentialism, as it is a separate entity with no direct ties to the past philosophy.

The shared relationship between Wols, Giacometti and Michaux has allowed us to investigate perceptual art outside of the post war era. This means that we can put existentialism’s relationship to art into perspective, yet at the same time it presents a loose specification for the production of work, that records and comments on perception in the strongest way of representing existence within art.

Another clue to the similarity between existentialism and the arts is the fact that the artists were going back and reading phenomlogical texts independently of the existential writers. This certainly reveals one reason for the similarity between the concerns of existentialism and art, it is only history that has perceived phenomenology originating in existentialism and filtering into the arts, not the genuine origin of source. The origin of phenomenology is the only link between the arts and existentialism, it is the same source we know discuses notions of perceptual reality and existence. We know that the recording of perception existed before existentialism and the philosophy only strengthened its appeal.

It is this point again that highlights the existence of notions of perception existing before existentialism and then existentialism is remembered unjustifiably for creating phenomilogical perception within the arts. The true elements of phenomilogical art existed before existentialism and were then strengthened by the philosophy and made its own. The same appears to have occurred with Giacometti's production of work.

That strengthening process and existentialism itself, probably wouldn't have existed if it weren’t for the war and the affect it had on every individual and society as a whole. If the situation is strong enough, society affects the individual in unprecedented ways and this can be seen in the production of arts in the post war era. 69

"At the end of the seventies the transcendelist, phenomilogically orientated approach which had been dominant for thirty years abruptly disappeared. Consequently the existential values of the world war II generation have faded away- the younger generation (In the western world at least) has never experienced a situation, in which all the rules are found inapplicable" 70

It is unfortunate that the quest to record genuine perception within art has lost its strength, this art forms what I feel to be the strongest way an individual can record their individual perception to existence, it holds important values as perceptual art transcends language, time and the existence of the individual who created the work, For as Kierkergaard said:

"An image is eternal when its form, its pictorial surface and its content are perfectly matched" 71

and this is certainly achieved by the genuine perception of reality.


1.Barbara Kruger. Art in theory.1992.p1072.

2.Frances Morris. Paris Post War, Art And Existentialism 1945-55. 1993. p.18

3.John Strand. Do You Remember The Fifties? Art International, no.4 Autumn 1988. p.6

4.Antonin Artaud. Paris Post War, Art and Existentialism 1945-55, 1993.p.181

5.Britt, D. Modern Art: Impressionisim to Post Modernisim. Boston: Little Brown, 1989.p234

6.John Strand. Do You Remember The Fifties? Art International, no.4 Autumn 1988. p.7

7.Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism And Humanism. 1997 reprint. p26

8.Sarah Wilson. Paris Post war – Art and Existentialism, 1945-55.1993.p.38

9.Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism And Humanism. 1997 reprint. p28

10.Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism And Humanism. 1997 reprint. p29

11.Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism And Humanism. 1997 reprint. p41

12.Britt, D. Modern Art: Impressionisim to Post Modernisim. Boston: Little Brown, 1989p.234

13.Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism And Humanism. 1997 reprint. p42

14.Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism and Humanisim.p.49

15.Martin Heidegger. Philip Marriet. Intro to Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism And Humanism. 1997 reprint.p.14

16.If we compare existentialism to religion (As a way of comparing the expression of a mode of belief within the arts.) it can show us the different ways existentialism can be represented within the arts. If an artist represented scenes of the bible, they would be referring back to religious texts rather than encompassing the total experience the individual gains from a mode of belief. This is the only genuine relationship the individual can have to representing religion. To refer to the bible is to recreate and belief in god is not necessary to represent scenes of the bible, to express the experience of religion on a personal level is to encompass genuine notions that are first hand to the artist.

17. Fautrier was recorded as being the precursor to the term “Informel”. Informel meant formless this was a direct association to the application of paint and the representation of narrative within his art. Other artists that are grouped within this frame in the exhibition were Henri Michaux, Wols and Jean Dubuffet.

18.Frances Morris. Paris Post War, Art And Existentialism 1945-55. 1993. p.79

19.Frances Morris. Paris Post War, Art And Existentialism 1945-55. 1993. p.135

20.Simone de Beauvoir. The prime of life.1979 repint.p.486

21.Frances Morris. Paris Post War, Art And Existentialism 1945-55. 1993. p.143

22.David Sylvester. Interviews with Francis Bacon. 1980.p.61

23.Wols produced work that was also defined under the term “Informel”

24.Frances Morris. Paris Post War, Art And Existentialism 1945-55. 1993. p.181

25.Frances Morris. Paris Post War, Art And Existentialism 1945-55. 1993. p.181

26.Frances Morris. Paris Post War, Art And Existentialism 1945-55. 1993. p.181

27.Merlin Ingli James. Exhibition review: Paris post war (Burlington magazine) p.640

28.Colin Wilson.The Outsider.1963.p.13

29.David Sylvester Interviews With Francis Bacon. 1980, p.82.

30.Patrick Elliot, Alberto Giacometti 1901-66. 1996. p.21

31.Francis Morris. Paris Post war, Art and Existentialism 1945-55. 1993. p.18.

32.Wade Baskin. Introduction to Jean Paul Sartre’s Essays In Aesthetics. 1963. p.8.

33.Simone de Beauvoir. The Prime Of Life. 1979- reprint. p.487.

34.Simone de Beauvoir. The Prime Of Life. 1979- reprint. p.487-8.

35.Simone de Beauvoir. The Prime Of Life. 1979- reprint. p.487

36.Simone de Beauvoir. The Prime Of Life. 1979- reprint. p.489

37.Giacometti also had a preoccupation with death, “When he was run down by a car, he had thought, with detached amusement, “Is this the way one dies? I wonder what’ll happen to me?” Death itself he regarded as a most lively experience”. His experience with life and death concerned Giacometti directly and thus also affected his art. Giacometti traced this concern back to an incident that occurred in 1921; he was on holiday with an acquaintance: who became ill and died on the second day of their trip. “Giacometti watched the man turn from a living breathing being into a dead object.” It was this balance between life and death in a human being that perhaps struck a cord in Giacometti.

38.James Lord. Alberto Giacometti 1901-66. 1996. p.42

39.James Hyman. The R.A. Magazine (No. 52)

40.Sarah Wilson.Paris Post War, Art and Existentialism 1945-55.p.37

41.Valerie J. Fletcher. Alberto Giacometti 1901-66. 1996. p. 28

42. James Lord. Alberto Giacometti 1901-66. 1996. p. 42

43. Jean Wahl. The Roots of Existentialism. 1993. p.7.

44.“In order that we ourselves may truly exist rather than remain in the sphere of things seen and things used, we must quit the inauthentic sphere of existence. Ordinarily due to our own laziness and the pressure of society, we remain in an everyday world where we are not really in contact with ourselves.” Giacometti had made himself the individual who operated outside of our everyday world and his aim was to record that world.

45.James Lord. Alberto Giacometti 1901-66 p.7

46.Simone de Beauvoir. The Prime Of Life. 1979- reprint. p.487

47.Simone de Beauvoir. The Prime Of Life. 1979- reprint. p.486-7

48.Jean-Paul Sartre. Essays In Aesthetics: The Quest For The Absolute. p.96

49.He had decided to reject his previous knowledge of sculpting methods; to begin again from scratch and to learn how he could best represent his vision in his own way. He stated that he destroyed his work because “There were too many sculptures between him and the model”, not for any other reason that could be linked to existentialism.

50.Jean-Paul Sartre. Essays In Aesthetics: The Quest For The Absolute. p.95

51.Patrick Elliot. Alberto Giacometti 1901-66. 1996. p.24

52.Simone de Beauvoir. The Prime Of Life. 1979- reprint. p.489

53.Simone de Beauvoir. The Prime Of Life. 1979- reprint. p.488

54.Philip Mairet. Intro. to Existentialism and Humanism. 1997-reprint. p.12

55.Sarah Wilson. Paris Post War, Art and Existentialism 1945-55. 1993.p.35

56.Edward Lucie-Smith. Movements In Art Since 1945- Issues And Concepts. p.87

57.Barbara Kruger, Taking Pictures. Art in Theory 1900-90.p1071

58.Kierkergarrd: George Pattison.p145

59.Sarah Wilson. Paris Post War, Art and Existentialism 1945-55.1993.p.30

60.Basil Talyor. Cezanne. 1961.p.7



63.Patrick Elliot. Alberto Giacometti 1901-66.1996.p28

64.Beckett had several relationships with artists including Giacometti and Van Velde, but it is his relationship with Arikha twenty years outside of existentialism that remains more interesting.

65.Samuel Beckett. (And selected authors). Arikha.1985.p.31




69.It is essential to point out some of the limitations presented within this essay, the length of the thesis prevents the total domination of the relationship between both existentialism and art, and presents a wide variety of opinions being expressed, which is perhaps needed to discuss this text properly. This is particularity evident with my comparison of art to Sartre's existentialism. I feel Sartre is too conscious of the promotion of existentialism, he does not present genuine concerns in relation to art, There are other writers that would have perhaps presented more genuine commentary on the relation of existentialism to art: (Ponty)

70.Barbara Kruger, Taking Pictures. Art in Theory 1900-90.p1072

71.Kierkergarrd: George Pattison.p145


Book References:

Barnes, A.C. The Art of Cezanne. Merion, Pennsylvania: Barnes Foundation Press, 1967 rep.

Beckett, S. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber And Faber, 1986

Beckett, S. (And selected authors) Arikha. Paris: Hermann, 1985

Britt, D. Modern Art: Impressionisim to Post Modernisim. Boston: Little Brown, 1989

Camus, A. The Outsider. London: Penguin Books, 1983

De Beauvoir, S. The Prime Of life. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1979 rep.

Gordon, I.E. Theories of Visual Perception. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1991 rep.

Hughes, R. The Shock of the New. New York: Knopf, 1980

Kearney, R. The Wake Of The Imagination. London: Hutchinson Education, 1988

Lucie-Smith, E. Movements In art since 1945- Issues and Concepts. New York, N.Y: Thames and Hudson, 1984

Merleau-Ponty, M. Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989

Pacey, P. A Sense of what is Real: The Arts and Existential Man. London: Brentham Press, 1978

Sartre, JP. Nausea. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1965 rep.

Sartre, JP. Being And Nothingness London: Routledge, 1993 rep.

Sartre, JP. Existentialism and Humanisim. London: Methuen, 1997 rep.

Sartre, JP.Essays in Existentialism. (Original title: The Philosophy of Existentialism) New York: Citadel Press, 1993

Sartre, Jp. Essays in Aesthetics. London: Peter Owen, 1963

Sylvester, D. Interviews With Francis Bacon- 1962-79. Oxford: Thames and Hudson, 1980

Taylor, B. Cezanne. London: Hamlyn, 1961

White, E. Genet. London: Picador, 1993

Wilson, C. The Outsider. London: Pan Books, 1963

Exhibition Catalouges:

Royal Academy, Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966. Exh.Cat., London, 1996

Tate Gallery, Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism. Exh.Cat., London, 1993

Essays In Texts:

Cohn, R.,’Philosophical Fragments in the Work of Samuel Beckett’. Hook, S. Art and Philosophy: A symposium. New York: New York University Press, 1966, pp.169-177


Cremin, A. ‘Friend Game’. Art News, May 1985, pp.82-89

Gidal, P. ‘Beckett and Art’. Art and Artists, June 1973, pp.32-37

James, M.I. ‘Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55’. The Burlington Magazine, v.135, pp.647-9

Lang, L. ‘Jean Helion: Unfashionable Figuration’. Art International, no.4, autumn 1988, pp.27-32

Maxwell, D. ‘Whatever Ever Happened to Bernard Buffet?’. Modern Painters, v.7, summer 1994, pp. 66-9

Patterson, G. ‘Kierkegaard: Aesthetics and the Aesthetic’. The British Journal of Aesthetics, v31, April 1991, pp.140-51

Strand, J. ‘Do You Remember the Fifties?’. Art International, no.4, autumn 1988 pp.6-12

Wilson, S. ‘Jean Fautrier, Orthodoxy and the Outsider’. Art International, no.4, autumn 1988, pp.33-40

Whitford, F. ‘Alberto Giacometti’. The Royal Academy Magazine, no.52, autumn 1996, pp.32-34


List Of illustrations


Picasso: Skull and book, oil on canvas. 80 x 100cm, 1946


Helion: Four seated nudes, oil on canvas. 114 x 162, 1949

Michaux: Untitled, watercolur on canvas. 38 x 28, 1947

Fautrier: Sarah, 116x 89, 1942- 3

Wols: Bird, 92.1 x 65.1, 1949

Artaud: Portrait of Henri Pichette or Gris Gris, 64.7 x 49.8, 1947

Dubuffet: Smoker by a wall, 116 x 89, 1945

Gruber: Nude in red waistcoat, 1944

Velde: Untittled, Montrouge, 162 x 130, 1951

Giacometti: Diego seated, 1949


a) Fautrier: Head of a hostage, 28 x 22

b) Fautrier: Head of a hostage, 35.6 x 26.7


a) Dubuffet: Smoker by a wall, 116 x 889, 1945

b) Dubuffet: The Geologist, 97 x 130, 1950


Helion: Men reading newspapers, 129.5 x195, 1950


Helion: Nude with loaves, 130.1x 97, 1952


a) Michaux: Untitled, 39.1 x 29.2, 1948

b) Michaux: Untitled, 46 x 30, 1947-8

c)Michaux: Untitled, 50 x 32


a) Wols: Branching tree stumps in the wind, 18.7 x 10.5, 1944-5

b) Wols: Nearby star, (Our Earth) 20.4 x 12.2, 1944-5

c) Wols: The mad boar, 20.4 x 12.2, 1945


a) Giacometti: Figure study, 1953

b) Wols: Untitled, 18.7 x 33.3, 1944-5

c) Michaux: Untitled, 40x 29.2, 1947


Giacometti: Flower in danger, 1933

Giacometti: Portrait of the artists mother, 1947

Fig.11 )

Giacometti: Standing man, 1957

Giacometti: Man walking in rain, 1948


Giacometti: Jean Genet, 1955


Giacometti: Man pointing, 1947

Giacometti: Portait of the artists mother, 1958

Giacometti: Standing nude, 1953


Giacometti: The studio with man pointing, 1951


Giacometti: The chariot, 1950


Buffet: Solitude, (The seated drinker) 1948


Cezanne: The black clock, 54 x 73, 1869-70


Cezanne: Mont ste victoire, 66 x 89.5, 1886-8


Arikha:Slippers and undershirt, 81 x 65, 1979


Arikha: Self portrait shouting one morning, 46 x 38, brush and ink, 1969


Arikha: Glass of whisky, 81 x 65,1974

Giacometti: Apple on sideboard, 1937


©2002-05 robert foddering