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The Cruel Gaze | Antonio Saura

Sublime Cruelty and the Monstrous

I. The monstrous, and cruelty, cease to be so when art transforms them into phenomena of intensity and beauty, there being a need, for some the most profound and hidden, to achieve such ends. […]

In itself, the practice of the cruel gaze constitutes one of the essential supports of the art of evil, although in its speculative sense it might constitute a cognitive means as a source of amazement as well as a catastrophe of perception, for if we can, indeed, find Evil in a sly and perverse form, even in seemingly anodyne forms, it can also cease to exist in manifest forms of the monstrous and the seemingly perverse. […]

The cruel gaze, however, involves specific constraints that are related to the mental or physical processes of construction in destruction, which, limiting and defining the reach of Evil in art, are the site of an operative ingredient that is required in decisive form in the internal structure of the work. […]

Cruelty, then, and not visual sadism; plastic phenomenology evinced in crudeness, and not primarily an alteration of or disregard for the sacred; blasphemy, sure, but not the one that Christian dogma specifies; eroticism, obviously, but fundamentally based on the sexualized, and therefore intimately linked to destruction; destruction too, but linked to the construction of a new beauty, problematically so, but in any event linked to concepts in which the monstrous, the obscene, the convulsive and intemperate claim primacy over the mild, static and comforting. […]

2. The cruel gaze has but little to do with the eye which laughs but it does, instead, with the eye that thinks. Subordinated to the emotion of the historical moment, rare are the satirical works that deserve to remain in the memory: their dosage of temporary malice will only be able to attain true visual transgression in the hands of great painters. […]

3. The interest and the fascination for the monstrous is, in reality, exclusive to that monster the human being, all that’s required is to analyse with an observer’s lucidity, without cruelty in the gaze, our own mirror. […]

4. Conceived thus, picturemaking stems from a catastrophe, grows labyrinthically in the taming of chance and in the acuity of confluence, in the dangerous apex, before constituting itself as a new being who now breathes in another ambit, its own, subject, certainly, to phantasms, to obsession, to the structure that engenders it, yet possessor of a new and unforeseen condition. […] We could say that the cruel gaze constitutes the very essence of painting as we understand it, and even that if there weren’t any Evil neither would intensity or sublime beauty exist, for although “the sleep of reason produces monsters,” Evil, according to Bataille, “is in some way also the dream of goodness.”[1]

[1]Georges Bataille, op. cit.


Saura, Antonio; “La mirada cruwel” in: Fijeza. Ensayos.

Barcelona: Galaxia GUtemberg, 1999 [excerpt]

Published in Saura. Tragedy & creation. Barcelona, 2018. Mayoral. p. 92-93

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