Paris Post-War: Art and existentialism 1954-55

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The Independent Online
Spent yesterday evening at the Geists. The Sarrautes were there as well. The latter started showering with praise that sod Jean Genet, who boasts (with talent, I must confess) to be a thief, a scoundrel and a prostitute in every way. I proposed, and upheld as well as I could, that the quality of a work cannot be determined without taking into account the moral attitude of the artist, his desire to do well and to go with the flow of life rather than against it.

Shame on me] Who dares to speak of goodness here? Goodness was merely boring or had nothing to do with it. In the end I had everyone against me and appeared to be guilty of believing that a man should endeavour to unify his life and his work. I was either a Communist or a Catholic, etc.

I fought back against these four people, clumsily sometimes. Perhaps I was wrong to insist. If no one believes in the spiritual mission of art, what are my efforts worth?

From Journal d'un peintre. Carnets 1929-62 by Jean Helion (Maeght, Paris, 1993)

(Trans: Emmanuelle de la Lubie)