André Malraux & 
The Antagonism of Art

A Museum Without Walls

"For over a century our approach to art has been growing more and more intellectualized. The museum invites comparison of each of the expressions of the world it brings together, and forces us to question what it is that brings them together. The sequence of seemingly antagonistic schools has added to the simple 'delight of the eye' an awareness of art's impassioned quest, of a re-creation of the universe, confronting the Creation. After all, a museum is one of the places that show man at his noblest. . . . In a place where the work of art no longer has any function other than that of being a work of art, and at a time when the artistic exploration of the world is in active progress, the assemblage of so many masterpieces--from which, nevertheless, so many are missing--conjures up in the mind's eye all of the world's masterpieces. How indeed could this mutilated possible fail to evoke the whole gamut of the possible? . . . A museum without walls has been opened to us, and it will carry infinitely farther that limited revelation of the world of art which the real museums offer is within their walls: in answer to their appeal, the plastic arts have produced their printing press."
--Museum Without Walls

Human Destiny & Death

“Well we know that this word gets its tone from the fact that it expresses our dependence and expresses the mortality of everything that must die.  We know that in ourselves there is a weak point that no god can watch over constantly: the saints call their despair aridness, and ‘Why has thou forsaken me?’ is, for the Christian, the cry of man himself.  Time sweeps on, perhaps toward eternity, and certainly toward death.  But destiny is not death—it is made up of everything that makes man aware of his nothingness, and, first of all, of his solitude; that is why man has so often taken refuge in love, and why religions protect man against his destiny—even when they do not defend him against death—by making him a bond with God and the universe.  We know the side of man that wants to be omnipotent and immortal.  We know that man’s awareness of himself is not formed in the same way as his awareness of the world; and we know that for himself each one is a monster of dreams.”
--The Psychology of Art

The West & Loss of an Orientation Towards Being

“What Christian culture was discarding was . . . something even more vital than a faith; it was the notion of man oriented towards Being—who was soon to be replaced by the man capable of being swayed by ideas and acts; value was being disintegrated into a plurality of values.  What was disappearing from the Western world was the Absolute."

“Whether we like it or not the West will elucidate its destiny only by the light of the torch it is carrying, even if it burns its hand: and what this torch seeks to light up is everything which can heighten man’s power.  How can an agnostic civilization refuse to have recourse to what has transcended it and so often accounted for its greatness?  If the substance of all culture is the quality of the world, its aim is the quality of man.  And this it is which makes a culture not a summa of knowledge but an heir of greatness.  Our own artistic culture, knowing that it cannot limit itself to the subtle refining of its sensibilities, is groping its way in the presence of the figures, songs, and poems which constitute the legacy of the world’s oldest nobility, because it has discovered itself to be today sole heir to that bequest.”
--The Voices of Silence

Some Key Concepts in Malraux's Thinking

  1. Malraux sought for a way to synthesize the individual, who was (and is) increasingly conceived of as a mishmash of warring parts; likewise, he sought to find a way to discover a unity in the culture.
  2. In typical existential fashion, he sees people as possessing a self-created meaning which is to "negate our nothingness," though at times he toys with religion, especially Christianity, as holding the answer for his desired synthesis.
  3. The means of media reproduction now makes a universal art possible.
  4. The museum separates out art as art, and thereby it both celebrates the aesthetic achievements of all cultures even as it decontextualizes the art objects from their original meanings and uses. The museum without walls goes even further, making it possible through print reproduction to become acquainted with all art from every period and culture.
  5. Artists are hostile to nature in that they reduce nature to plastic created forms distinct from nature.
  6. The art world in the modern period is increasingly self-referential, no longer referring to the transcendent or to the natural world, yet ironically this has called back into consideration all past styles and approaches.
  7. Because the modern age has lost a sense of the transcendent and a human orientation to the Absolute, the transcendent is now wholly negative for people, which results in spiritual suffering and obsession as our way of relating to it.
  8. Art is a form of action in response to this transcendent absence and seeks to triumph over death by its powers of creation.
  9. There is no final end to the human dialogue within art and with death. 
  10. Each style period in some way removes the masks of the world and seeks to free us from a race with death. A culture's style represents its conquering what has preceded it.
  11. The "will to omnipotence" in some art seeks to divorce art from the transcendent and to seek complete freedom of creation.
  12. The chaos of the museum without walls can create a complete spiritual bewilderment or a spiritual detachment and artistic contest defined by multiplicity.
  13. Yet it can also give rise to a meta-art of purified meaning--of creation as a protest against the world's meaninglessness.
  14. Malraux, therefore, rejects art which believes in a surreal surrender to the irrational.

Malraux & the Museum Without Walls

 "Art works will acquire a kind of ubiquity. . . . They will no longer exist only in themselves, but all of them will exist wherever there is someone. . . One must expect that such innovations will transform the whole technique of the arts, will consequently have an effect on creation itself, will go as far, perhaps, as to modify the very notion of art."

"Although the expression of archaic sentiments, even when indirect, grants to the masterpiece a particular resonance, recourse to shadows implies continued subservience to some kind of tyranny: in art no monster is an end in itself. Mingled in our admiration are our feelings about the deliverance of man and the mastery of the art work."


"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding