Karel Teige

In the 19th century the -isms were born, which represented less formal and less constricting styles of ersatz art. Today there isn't a governing -ism: after cubism we became witnesses to a rivalry between numerous schools of art and creeds. Art lost its direction and disintegrated into various groups, which call themselves "avant-garde." So now there is only "new art," or "the newest art," which often boasts of "eternal truths" (a delusion as old as the world itself). The degeneration of the -isms is simply a symptom of the degeneration of existing types of art.

But, for all that, there now arises a new style and with it a NEW ART: one which stops being art, which is ignorant of traditional prejudices, which takes in each promising hypothesis, sympathizes with experimentation, and whose methods are as rich and unprepossessing as life itself.

Those artistic souls with spirit will probably, from now on, be applying themselves to this new art. This means, naturally, that the literati and professionals will be absent -- and for that things will be all the more lively and merry. In the blossoming of the new art you will find such a sense of vitality and life that you will forget the various contentious points of artistic doctrine.

Artistic professionalism cannot survive anymore. If it is new art and that which we call POETISM (the art of life,

the art of being alive and living life),
it must ultimately be as self-evident, pleasurable and understandable as sport, love, wine and all other types of delicacies. It cannot be a mere occupation, or trade, but rather a common need. No individual life, if it is lived decently -- that is, in laughter, happiness, love and contentment -- can be without it. Professional art is a fallacy and, to a certain extent, an anomaly. For instance, at the Paris Olympiad of 1924 professional clubs were not admitted. Why, then, shouldn't we just as resolutely reject the professional fraternities of the painting, writing, and sculpting businesses? The artistic work cannot be a product for business speculation nor should it be an object of dry, academic speculation. It is fundamentally a gift, or a game without obligations or consequences.


This new, brilliant and limitless beauty that we are describing is the progeny of actual life. It wasn't born from esthetic speculation -- the romantic sensibilities of the art studio -- but is the result both of the people's tenacious, disciplined production and their life's activity in general. It doesn't sit in cathedrals or galleries; it is outside in the streets, in the architecture of the cities, in the refreshing green of the parks, in the bustle of the harbors and the workings of industry, which sustain us and our living environments. It doesn't prescribe any formulas: modern creations and forms are the result of hard work, produced by the perfect execution of the dictates and the goals of the economy. It includes the engineer's calculation but completes it with a poetic vision. To the science concerned with the construction of cities -- urbanism -- it supplies the captivating and the poetic; it maps out the ground-plan of life, the prototype of the future, utopia, even the implementation of a Red future. Its products are the implements of abundance and happiness.

The new beauty originated in constructivist work, which is the basis of modern life. The triumph of constructivist methods (the birth of manufacturing, the repression of the decorative arts, production in series, standardization) is made possible only by a keen intellectualism, which manifests itself in contemporary techniques of materialism. Marxism. The constructive principle is therefore the principle conditioning the very existence of the modern world. Purism is the aesthetic conditioning constructivist work -- nothing more, nothing less.

Flaubert wrote a prophetic sentence: "The art of tomorrow shall be impersonal and scientific." Will it therefore still be art? Today's architecture, the construction of cities, and industrial art are all science. They aren't artistic creation -- that is, the welling up of art from a romantic enthusiasm -- but the simple, intensive work of civilization: social technology.


Poetism is the crown of life, whose basis is constructivism. Relativists, we are convinced of a hidden irrationality, which the scientific system doesn't perceive and is irrepressible...

...We desire freedom for the individual. "After six days of work and building the world, on the seventh day we shall find beauty in our souls." With this quotation from O. Brezina it is possible to give a true picture of the relationship between poetism and constructivism. When a person lives as a working person, he also wants to live as a person, as a poet.

Poetism is not only the antithesis, but also the necessary fulfillment of constructivism...


Art which could be called poetism is casual, playful, fantastic, festive, non-heroic and amorous -- it is not at all like romanticism. It was born in an atmosphere of merry conviviality, in a world which laughs so hard that it brings tears to its eyes. The humorous temperament dominates; at the same time pessimism is whole-heartedly abandoned. It shifts the emphasis toward the pleasures and beauties of life and away from the musty studios and galleries. It comes from nowhere and leads nowhere, spinning about in the beautifully scented park, for that is the path of life...poetism wants to make life into a great and entertaining enterprise, an eccentric carnival, a harlequinade of the senses and imagination, an intoxicating film, a wondrous kaleidoscope. Its muses are kindly, tender and joyful, its glances are as fascinating and inscrutable as those of two lovers.

Poetism is without a philosophical orientation. It would only confess to a practical and tasteful eclecticism. It is not a world view -- that, for us, is Marxism -- but a part of life. And certainly not a part of life that resides in the workroom, library or museum...

Poetism isn't a literature...

Poetism isn't a style of painting...

Poetism isn't an -ism, which is to say an -ism in the hitherto narrow sense of the word. For today there isn't an artistic -ism. Constructivism is the method of all types of productive work. Poetism is, in the most beautiful sense, the art of life, a modern epicureanism. It does not bring in an esthetic which would forbid or impose...

Poetism isn't art; that is to say, it isn't art in the romantic use of the word. It seeks the dissolution of the forms and varieties of artistic styles that have, to this time, defined art; it replaces them with a pure poetry, shining in innumerable forms, that is as polymorphous as fire and love. It utilizes film and aviation, radio, technology, optical and acoustic inventions, sport, dance, circus and the music-hall -- places of daily invention and perpetual improvisation. It fully corresponds to our needs of fun and activity...

Poetism is, above all, a modus vivendi. It is a function of life and, at the same time, is its raison d'Ítre...It is true that happiness is a comfortable apartment, a roof above one's head. But it's also love, amusement, laughter and dance. Poetism is a grand education. The excitant of life. It relieves depression, concerns, resentment. It is spiritual and moral hygiene...

To not understand poetism is to not understand life!


...The world today is governed by money, which is to say capitalism. Socialism means that the world should be governed by reason, wisdom, and economics -- purposively and practically. The method used to achieve this is constructivism. But reason would stop being wise if, in ruling the world, it repressed our sensibilities: instead of enriching, it would mean the impoverishing of life. The only wealth which has value for our happiness is the wealth of our senses and fullness of our sensibilities. And here intervenes POETISM to protect and restore the sense of life, pleasure and fantasy.


With these words we try, for the first time, to roughly formulate a movement, a movement which is supported by some modern Czech authors. Which is to say, that it's about time to define what poetism is. For the word "poetism," in the one year of its life, has already become quite common and is often misused by the critics, who often have no idea what it is.

Poetism was born with the collaboration of several authors from the Devetsil group. It was, above all, our reaction against the governing ideological poetics -- a protest against romantic aesthetics and traditionalism and our abandonment of the hitherto dominant precepts of "art." We sought out in films, the circus, sport, tourism, and in life itself the expressive possibilities which were not to be found in mere pictures and poems. And so is born the picture poem, poetic puzzles and anecdotes, lyrical films. The authors of this experiment: Nezval, Seifert, Voskovec and, if you please, Teige would like to include all the flowering manifestations of poetry -- quite detached from literature -- and by this we mean the poetry of Sunday afternoons, holiday outings, lively cafes, the intoxication of alcohol, lively tabloids and spa-town promenades and the poetry of quiet, night, calm and peace.

(translated by G.S. Evans)

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Summary of the Poetist Manifesto

(From: Alfred French, The Poets of Prague, London, 1969 -- an excellent, and the only, book about Poetism in English)

" Teige's view the noblest expression of modern art was to be found not in cathedrals or galleries but in the functional products of technical civilization. The art of tomorrow, as already demonstrated by the architecture of today, would shun romanticism and decoration, and its spirit would be akin to that of geometry or science. But though the new living style was to be, at its best, severely logical, it must also cater for the irrational side of man, that side of him which hungered for the bizarre, the fantastic, and the absurd. For six days would man be rational, but on the seventh would he rest from reason. This recreation, or social hygiene, as Teige regarded it, was the function of Poetism, which thereby supplemented Constructivism, being itself its opposite face.

Poetism was not itself art, but a style of living, an attitude, and a form of behaviour. It was favourable to the growth of an art which was playful, unheroic, unphilosophical, mischievous, and fantastic: it throve in an atmosphere of gaiety and fun, and aimed to draw the attention of its audience from the gloom of factory and tenement to the bright lights of man-made amusement. 'Poetism seeks to turn life into a magnificent entertainment, an eccentric carnival, a harlequinade of feeling and imagination, an intoxicating film track, a marvellous kaleidoscope. Its muses are kindly, gentle and smiling, its glances are as fascinating and inscrutable as the glance of lovers.' "

Coverpage of Disk, a poetist journal

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Pásmo (Poetist homepage)
Poetist Manifesto | Pierot the Cyclist | Train Ride | Harbor |
Rocket (film script) | A Glass Poem (proposal for a lyrical film) | Adieu

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translation copyright 1999 by Greg Evans