"(...) I'm going to leave you in very good company, because I've brought a little piece of a great director named Cézanne, some words on the profession and our work, so, from somebody who died trying to paint a mountain. He really died on the field, because it was raining, it was really cold, he was getting on in years, but he wouldn't budge. He was trying to resist even the rain and the cold. He left us these words, these impressions on the work that we must do. He left them, and Danièle and Jean-Marie put them in a very beautiful film that I advise you to see (at the Athénée Français, I suppose, the only place where one could see such a film) that's called Cézanne (1989), and I'm going to leave you with that. Excuse me if I've not been terribly clear, and I hope one day to see, finally, to read your love letters.
'You see, a motif is this ...' (He put his hands together, drew them apart, the ten fingers open, then slowly, very slowly brought them together again, clasped them, squeezed them tightly, meshing them.) 'That's what one should try to achieve. If one hand is held too high or too low, it won't work. Not a single link should be too slack, leaving a hole through which the emotion, the light, the truth can escape. You must understand that I work on the whole canvas, on everything at once. With one impulse, with undivided faith, I approach all the scattered bits and pieces. Everything we see falls apart, vanishes, doesn't it? Nature is always the same, but nothing in her that appears to us lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us a taste of her eternity. What is there underneath? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Everything, you understand! So I bring together her wandering hands. I take something at right, something at left, here, there, everywhere, her tones, her colors, her nuances, I set them down, I bring them together. They form lines. They become objects, rocks, trees, without my planning. They take on volume, value. If these volumes, these values, correspond on my canvas, in my sensibility, to the planes, to the spots which I have, which are there before our eyes, then my canvas has brought its hands together. It does not waver. The hands have been joined neither too high nor too low. My canvas is true, compact, full. But if there is the slightest distraction, if I fail just a little bit, above all if I interpret too much one day, if today I am carried away by a theory which runs counter to that of yesterday, if I think while I paint, if I meddle, whoosh! everything goes to pieces. Interpretation is worthless? The artist is no more than a receptacle for sensations, a brain, a recording apparatus. But if it interferes, if it dares, feeble apparatus that it is, to deliberately intervene in what it should be translating, its own pettiness gets into the picture. The work becomes inferior.
Do you mean that we should slavishly follow nature?
That's not what I meant. Art is a harmony parallel to nature. What can we say to the fools who tell us: the painter is always inferior to nature? He is parallel to her. Provided, of course, he does not intervene deliberately. His only aspiration must be silence. He must stifle within himself the voices of prejudice, he must forget, always forget, establish silence, be a perfect echo. Then the landscape will inscribe itself on his sensitive tablet. In order to record it on the canvas, to externalise it, his craft will have to be appealed to, but a respectful craft which also must be ready only to obey, to translate unconsciously – so well does it know its language – the text it is deciphering, the two parallel texts, nature as seen, nature as felt, the one that is there... (he pointed to the green and blue plain), the one that is here... (he tapped his forehead), both of which must merge in order to endure, to live a life half human, half divine, the life of art, listen to me... the life of God.' Then the landscape cast itself into me. I grabbed and put it on the canvas. See how the odor of pine needles envelops the sun. Each morning the festival begins, filled with the odor of stones and fresh green grass, and I marry Mt. St-Victoire. I take all of this, not with words but with colors. There is harmony within the sense of perfect contentment. In my mind, the world turns until everything melts together. My senses grasp this turning in a lyrical manner. Closing my eyes, I imagine the hill of St-Marc. The odor of scabiouses."