the vision of the fool
The fool does not see the world with the disillusioned knowingness of the scientist;
rather he marvels; he looks with the eyes of a child.
Cecil Collins: The Greeting 1943
In the early 1940s, Collins described his way of seeing the world in words. In a short book called The Vision of the Fool, written in the early 1940s and first published in 1947, he affirmed his belief in that which is ‘universal and eternal’, above and beyond the world of the intellect and the senses, ‘but not beyond the reach of the humility and hunger of the human heart’.
Collins’s paintings do not contain representations of objects seen in the visible world: indeed, he often reverses those rules of drawing and perspective through which artists attempt to transcribe appearances. And yet, despite his rejection of surrealism, or, come to that, of conventional religious belief, he insists that there is no meaning in life or art ‘excepting that which springs from the immortal surreality of that Eternal Person’.
Cecil Collins: The Sleeping Fool1943
The fool – whom he identifies with the artist and the poet – embodies ‘the eternal virginity of spirit, which in the dark winter of the world, continually proclaims the existence of a new life, gives faithful promise of the spring of an invisible Kingdom, and the coming of light’.
There was a time, of course, when Collins’s ideas sounded anachronistic, but he has always insisted that they are ‘modern’, in the sense that he is concerned as much with the present and the future as with the past. He has often said that he is more interested in the beginnings of a new civilization than in the passing of the old.
Indeed, it is part of his argument that our culture has itself become moribund and stale. ‘The only future I can see for it’, he once said, ‘is to make a new covenant with divine reality… And for art to return to its normal function, which is to reflect that covenant’. In other words, he is seeking a radical rejection of much contemporary aesthetics; he wants to re-instate that old idea of art as a channel of grace providing a link between the visible and invisible realities.
© Peter Fuller Memorial Foundation 2008
This article was originally published in Modern Painters magazine, Vol 2, no 2, 1989
The Vision of the Fool