Education by Infection

Life understood as a permanent source of infection that endangers the health of students’ nervous systems was articulated early in the twentieth century by Kazimir Malevich in “An Introduction to the Theory of the Additional Element in Painting,” which concerned itself with the problems of art education. Malevich describes a range of art styles—“Cézannism,” Cubism, and Suprematism, among them—as effects of different aesthetic infections metabolized in the artist by bacilli of one aesthetic kind or another. That is to say, they were triggered by new visual forms and impressions produced by modern life. So Malevich compares the straight lines of Suprematism (which he introduced into painting, according to his own view) to the bacillus of tuberculosis, whose organic form is also rectilinear. Just as a bacillus modifies the body, so too are the sensibility and nervous system of the artist modified by novel visual elements introduced into the world by new technical and social developments. The artist “catches” them with the same sense of risk and danger.
Artists need to modify the immune system of their art in order to incorporate new aesthetic bacilli, to survive them and find a new inner balance, a new definition of health.

From Flaubert, Baudelaire, and Dostoyevsky, by way of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, to Bataille, Foucault, and Deleuze, modern artistic thought has acknowledged as a manifestation of the human much of what was previously considered evil, cruel, and inhuman. Just as in the case of art, these authors and many others have not only accepted as human what reveals itself as human but also what reveals itself as inhuman. The point for them was not to incorporate, integrate or assimilate the alien into their own world but, conversely, to enter into the alien and become alien to their own tradition. They manifest an inner solidarity with the Other, with the alien, even with the threatening and cruel, and this takes us much further than a simple concept of tolerance. Over the course of modern art, all of the criteria that could clearly distinguish the work of art from other things were called into question. Sometimes a thing was conceived from the outset as a work of art; sometimes it was considered art only by its introduction into the gallery or museum. It is the case of contemporary art and its teaching that the concept of art per se cannot be reduced and cannot be taught within former limitations, as it has been so pervasively influenced by the will to Otherness.