Literature, painting, music, film and theater beget and bring forth themselves. New mutations, new combinations arise and are annihiliated; the movement seems--seen from the outside--nervously vital. With magnificent zeal the artists project to themselves and to a more and more distracted public pictures of a world that no longer cares what they like or think. In a few countries artists are punished, art is considered dangerous and worth stifling and directing. On the whole, however, art is free, shameless, irresponsible; the movement is intense, almost feverish, like a snake's skin full of ants. The snake is long since dead, eaten, deprived of his poison, but the skin is full of meddlesome life.
If I have become one of these ants, I must ask myself if there is any reason to continue my work.
The answer is yes. Although I think that the stage is an old, beloved kept woman, who has seen better days. Although I and many other people find the Wild West more stimulating than Antonioni and Bergman. Although painting and sculpture, sterilized, decline in their own paralyzing freedom. Although literature has been transformed into a pile of words without any message or dangerous qualities.
I think that people today can dispense with theater because they exist in the middle of a drama whose different phases incessantly produce local tragedies. They do not need music because every minute they are exposed to hurricanes of sound passing beyond endurance. They do not need poetry because the idea of the universe has transformed them into functional animals, confined to interesting--but from a poetical point of view unusable--problems of metabolic disturbance. Man (as I experience myself and the world around me) has made himself free, terribly and dizzingly free. Religion and art are kept alive as conventional politeness toward the past, as benign, democratic solicitude on behalf of nervous citizens enjoying more and more leisure time.
If I consider all these troubles and still maintain that I want to continue to work in art, there is a simple reason. (I disregard the purely material one.) The reason is curiosity. A boundless, insatiable curiosity that is always new and that pushes me onward--a curiosity that never leaves me alone and that has completely replaced my craving for community. I feel like a prisoner who, after serving a long term, suddenly is confronted with turbulent life. I note, I observe, I keep my eyes open; everything is unreal, fantastic, frightening, or ridiculous. I catch a flying grain of dust; maybe it is a film--what importance does it have? None at all, but I find it interesting and consequently it is a film. I walk around with the grain of dust that I have caught in my own hand. I am happy or sad. I jostle the other ants; together we accomplish an enormous task. The snake's skin moves.
"Each Film Is My Last." Films and Filming (July 1959). Reprinted in An Artist's Journey (1995). Ed. Roger W. Oliver.