talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

creative art—associations
new york, march 2, 1924

question: is it necessary to study the mathematical foundations of art, or can works of art be created without such a study?

answer: without this study, one can expect only accidental results; repetition cannot be expected.

question: can there be no unconscious creative art, coming from feeling?

answer: there can be no unconscious creative art, and our feeling is very stupid. it sees only one side, whereas understanding of everything must be of al sides. studying history we see that there were such accidental results, but it is not a rule.

question: can one write music harmonically, without knowledge of mathematical laws?

answer: there will be harmony between one note and another and there will be chords, but there will be no harmony among the harmonies. we are speaking now of influence, of conscious influence. a composer can exert an influence.

as things are at present, anything can bring a man into one or another state. supposing you feel happy. at this moment there is a noise, a bell, some music—any tune, it may be a foxtrot. you forget entirely that you have heard it, but later, when you hear the same music, or the same bell, it evokes the same feeling by association: let us say, love. this too is an influence, but it is subjective. not only music but any kind of noise may serve as association here. if it is connected with something unpleasant, as, for instance, with having lost some money, an unpleasant association will result.

but we are speaking of objective art, of objective laws in music or in painting.

the art we know is subjective, for without mathematical knowledge there can be no objective art. accidental results are very rare.

associations are a very powerful and important phenomenon for us but their significance is already forgotten. in ancient times people had special feast days. one day, for instance, was dedicated to certain combinations of sound, another to flowers, or colors, a third to taste, another to the weather, coldness and heat. then the different sensations were compared.

for example, supposing one day was the feast of sound. one hour there would be one sound, another hour another sound. during this time a special drink was handed around, or at times a special "smoke." in a word, certain states and feelings were evoked by chemical means with the help of external influences, in order to create certain associations for the future. later when similar external circumstances were repeated, they evoked the same states.

there was even a special day for mice, snakes and animals we are generally afraid of. people were given a special drink and then made to handle such things as snakes in order to get used to them. this produced such an impression that afterwards a man was not afraid any more. such customs existed a long time ago in persia and armenia. in former times people understood human psychology very well and were guided by it. but the reasons were never explained to the masses; they were given quite a different interpretation, from a different angle. only the priests knew the meaning of it all. these facts refer to the pre-christian times when people were ruled by priest-kings.

question: do dances only serve to control the body or have they also a mystical significance?

answer: dances are for the mind. they give nothing to the soul—the soul does not need anything. a dance has a certain meaning; every movement has a certain content.

but the soul does not drink whiskey, it does not like it. it like another food which it receives independently of us.