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“We were struck by the bankruptcy of European culture and thought it was necessary to destroy the old culture in order to build a new interpersonal language.”
Marcel Janco

Everywhere, images came before letters: in Egypt, China and Mesopotamia, as in the Americas, the first forms of writing were pictograms and indeograms, or stylised drawings.

The advent of letters, of the alphabet, revolutionised writing. The shift from images to the written word inevitably involved loss, as if abandoning images gave rise to a nostalgia for meaning: letters no longer directly carried the meaning conveyed by images. The cost of this shift was a palpable draining of vigour, a dis-incarnation. From the Chinese ( 写 : xiĕ), to the Greek (γράφειν: graphein), via the Arabic (يَكْتُبُ : yaktub), the respective verbs for “to write”, in their etymology, relate to pictures and painting.

Western poets and writers taking the path of abstraction turned to non-European civilisations, in particular the “Orient” covering both the Arab world and the Far East. Calligraphy, in particular, provided a form of writing able to reintroduce the emotion lost through the standardisation of writing. Calligraphers also saw how a non-figurative art that was nonetheless anchored in meaning could avert the danger of the purely decorative that has always threatened abstract painting.
From Kandinsky to Pollock, and from Masson to Dotremont, the search for the “pictographic”, the exploration of an artistic path between pictures (picto-) and writing (-graphic), runs like a thread through the 20th century.

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