A few years ago, when I was busy translating Alejandra Pizarnik’s collection Arbol de Diana [Diana’s Tree], my Spanish language editor gave me a chapbook copy of Praise of Laziness. I was immediately entranced by Stilinović’s words. I later found a copy on the web here. That is the translation published here.
I added my translation of the opening of Kasmir Malevich’s essay Laziness – the real truth of mankind.
Mladen Stilinović (1947, Belgrade – 2016, Pula Yugoslavia) wrote the essay in connection with an exhibition of his collection of paintings “Work” 1993.
Mladen-Stilinović – Work is a Word
WORK IS A SHAME – Vlado Martek
As an artist, I learned from both East (socialism) and West (capitalism). Of course, now when the borders and political systems have changed, such an experience will be no longer possible. But what I have learned from that dialogue, stays with me. My observation and knowledge of Western art have lately led me to the conclusion that art cannot exist anymore in the West. This is not to say that there aren’t any. Why cannot art exist anymore in the West? The answer is simple. Artists in the West are not lazy. Artists from the East are lazy; whether they will stay lazy now when they are no longer Eastern artists, remains to be seen.
Laziness is the absence of movement and thought, dumb time – total amnesia. It is also indifference, staring at nothing, non-activity, and impotence. It is sheer stupidity, a time of pain, futile concentration. Those virtues of laziness are important factors in art. Knowing about laziness is not enough; it must be practiced and perfected.
Artists in the West are not lazy and therefore not artists but rather producers of something…. Their involvement with matters of no importance, such as production, promotion, gallery system, museum system, competition system (who is first), their preoccupation with objects, all that drives them away from laziness, from art. Just as money is paper, so a gallery is a room.
Artists from the East were lazy and poor because the entire system of insignificant factors did not exist. Therefore they had time enough to concentrate on art and laziness. Even when they did produce art, they knew it was in vain; it was nothing.
Artists from the West could learn about laziness, but they didn’t. Two major 20th-century artists treated the question of laziness, in both practical and theoretical terms: Marcel Duchamp and Kazimir Malevich.
Marcel Duchamp (1887 – 1968) never really discussed laziness, but rather an indifference and non-work. When asked by Pierre Cabana what had brought him most pleasure in life, Duchamp said:
First having been lucky. Because basically, I’ve never worked for a living. I consider working for a living slightly imbecilic from an economic point of view. I hope that someday we’ll be able to live without being obliged to work. Thanks to my luck, I was able to manage without getting wet.
Kasmir Malevich (1870 – 1935) wrote a text entitled “Laziness – the real truth of mankind” (1921). In it, he criticized capitalism because it enabled only a small number of capitalists to be lazy, but also socialism because the entire movement was based on work instead of laziness. To quote:
It always struck me as strange when I heard or read some family member or bureaucrat making a contemptuous remark about laziness. “Laziness is the mother of all vices” is how the collective wisdom of humanity denounces this particular human activity. However, I always felt that this condemnation of laziness was unfair. Why is work so great? Why is it elevated to the throne of praise and fame while laziness is forced to sit in the pillory? Why are the lazy humiliated and branded contemptible while the industrious are showered with fame, given presents, and celebrated? It seems to me that this is the exact opposite of what should happen. Work, as it came down to us from the legend of Paradise, should be cursed. Laziness should be that towards which all humanity strives. But in real life, everything turned out differently. (first paragraph)
People are scared of laziness and persecute those who accept it, and it always happens because no one realizes laziness is the truth; it has been branded as the mother of all vices, but it is, in fact, the mother of life. Socialism brings liberation in the unconscious, it scorns laziness without realizing it was laziness that gave birth to it; in his folly, the son scorns his mother as a mother of all vices and would not remove the brand; in this brief note I want to remove the brand of shame from laziness and to pronounce it not the mother but the mother of perfection. (last paragraph)
Mladen-Stilinović – The Artist at Work
WORK IS A DISEASE – KARL MARX
Stilinović, Mladen. “Praise of Laziness.” Translated by Marija Marušić, https://mladenstilinovic.com/works/10-2/.