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Leonid Zusman Self-portrait 1930s

The story of the artist Zusman is one of a man’s encounter with art in the 20th century. This encounter is not a confirmation of conventional view- points or generally-accepted descriptive schemes, but rather an argument over the fictitious obviousness of art’s place, as though it were always within reach. The artist’s experience attests to the opposite. It contains no notion of art as commonplace. What is more, his experience moves us to define art not as a scene for action, but rather as the action itself. This action is not always easy to perform. It is not always easy to find or to recognise. The efforts and intentions that have made the action visible are not necessarily revealed. What was art yesterday remains art today, but the path that must now be taken to reveal art in the present does not and cannot repeat a single path taken earlier. The discipline of contemporary history calls upon the artist to be contemporary himself. What does it mean to be contemporary? The same historical discipline is ready to propose several ready formulas, variants of answers. The language of art begins with the rejection of them. The artist approaches art as if opening a book written in an unknown language. But someone spoke this language before and speaks it now. In the beginning, this language seems strange, alien; it is heard elsewhere, not in this world, not in the space of everyday life. So it seems when man fails to separate art from the realm of history. He only hears the din of a multitude of voices blending into a unified stream, in which it is impossible to make out individual words. At this point it is still impossible to speak. But art has already been determined to be a language, perhaps one of a multitude of languages in which people communicate. A person learns to speak it, observing how his new identity, his new persona, appears in the process of learning, and changes, becoming different and perhaps even estranged from his self of the day before. He realises that he exists only because he speaks this language; that is, painting pictures, he creates art.

When an artist reads books, writes down his thoughts and poems, listens to music, or walks around town, he is listening to the world, learning to hear its voices. He knows that the world is unified in endless polyphony. Then, once he can distinguish individual voices, he hears his own voice, as if it were still apart, and works with it, seeing that the mechanics of the harmonies are maintained, and not worrying about preserving himself, about doing anything to take care of the “self” that existed before this voice. He appears before the world when he works on a picture: it is his text, his speech. He is able to answer to the whole world. He believes that he can be heard. He understands that while he listens, he remains in the shadows. But in every picture he voluntarily or involuntarily is brought into the light and becomes visible.

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