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The art critic Paul Westheim believed that abstract art had always existed and that it had something to do with a poetic interpretation of the world. The artist’s job was therefore to channel art toward the spiritual, sensitive, and imaginative realms. He claimed to agree with the French writer Jean Cocteau—who thought that Figurative art was merely a mask for the internal expression of the painting. According to Westheim, what makes a painting, or a sculpture, a work of art is its internal organization, the abstract elements connected to the form. What moves us about a painting is not what is portrayed but how it is portrayed.
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This is an important document in the journalistic history of the period, especially as it relates to the Figuration-versus-Abstraction debate that was raging at that time. Paul Westheim (1886-1963), the Mexico-based German art critic, thought that the controversy had essentially been hijacked, and had become more about politics than about art. He thought it absurd that art with no political content should be pigeonholed as “art for art’s sake” or even as pure art. According to the critic, all artistic trends—whether figurative or abstract—always serve a cause. It was dangerous to let politics sacrifice visual art values without which, in his opinion, art was not art.