by Eugène Ionesco
A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind, an imaginary construct. The creation of a whole world introduced into our world. One does not wonder about the meaning or the use of a painting, a column, a symphony. Their own use is to be this particular painting, this column, this symphony, and why... Well, if an answer is absolutely required, one could say that it is because the painting of a picture, the erection of a column, the composition of a symphony are accidents of the mind. In the same way a play must also be the expression of an unpremeditated creative act.
One does not ask why a flower is a flower, nor why its existence exists. It exists, to exist. I once met a man, who wanted to kill all pigeons because those creatures seemed to be utterly useless. Thus one can reach the point of wanting to exterminate the entire universe because the universe is useless as well. Or rather, it is beyond usefulness and uselessness.
What can the function of the theater be in our time? The answer is simple. The function of the theater is to be the theater, its aim is inherent in itself. If the theater was anything other than the theater; a demonstration, the illustration of an ideology, an attempt at demagoguery, education or re-education or something else... it would be a small thing indeed. And if it was absolutely necessary that art or the theater be put to some use, I would say that it ought to serve the purpose of teaching people once more, that there are activities that they're of no use, and in fact, it is indispensable that gratuitous acts exist! Such a theater is as natural as the air we breathe.
Today people have a terrible fear of freedom and of humour. They do not seem to know that there is no life possible without freedom and humour. That the slightest gesture, the simplest initiative require the unfolding of the forces of the imagination that they stupidly attempt to shackle and imprison within the blind walls of the most narrow realism. This realism that they call life and light, is actually death and shadow. I claim therefore that the world lacks boldness, and this is the reason for our suffering. And I affirm the dreams and imagination rather than a routine existence require courage and reveal the fundamental essential truths. And as a matter a fact, this is a concession made to those who believe in only what is useful and practical.
If nowadays, planes crossed the sky, it is because we’ve conceived the dream of flight; long before we succeeded in flying. It has been possible to fly because we dreamt of flying and yet flying is a useless thing. Only later, once the discovery was made, the necessity for it was demonstrated or “invented”, as though we wish to apologize, for its profound essential uselessness. The uselessness however was a need... a difficult one to admit, I know.
Looking at people running to their businesses down the street. They look neither to the right nor left. Their eyes to the ground, they run a straight course like dogs. They do not have to look ahead, they follow mechanically a well know path. That is what happens in every large city in the world. Modern man, universal man is a hurried creature. He has no time, he is the prisoner of necessity. He does not understand that a thing does not have to be useful, nor does he comprehend that what is useful might actually be considered a useless crushing weight. If one does not grasp, the usefulness of the useless, or the uselessness of the useful, one does not have a grasp of art.... And a country that does not understand the nature of art is a land of slaves or robots, a place of unhappy people, who neither laugh nor smile, a spiritless and humorless country.
Art is the marvellous come to life, and that is what theater ought to be above all else.
Photograph by Richard Avedon