Artaud Antonin

(1896–1948), French artist and theatre visionary, writer, actor, director and draughtsman. He was a member of the surrealist movement (see his poetry in Tric-trac du Ciel [Backgammon in the Sky, 1923]) and film actor (his roles included the monk Massieu in Carl Dreyer’s famous The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928). In the early 1920s he was a member of the Théâtre de l’Atelier of Charles Dullin (his roles included Basilio in Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, 1922). He also played in the Comédie des Chaps Elysées, where he appeared in shows directed by Georges Pitoëff and Fyodor Komissarzhevsky. Between 1925 and 1928 he led the experimental Théâtre Alfred–Jarry, putting on, among other things, August Strindberg’s A Dream Play (1928) and Roger Vitrac’s Victor, or Power to the Children (1928). A pivotal moment for his ideas of the theatre came when he saw a performance by dancers from Bali as part of the Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931. In 1932 he published The First Manifesto for a Theatre of Cruelty. The group with which he staged his most important performance – The Cenci (6 May 1935) – was named The Theatre of Cruelty. In 1938 he published his famous book, Theatre and its Double in which he issued a passionate protest against European ‘idolatry of culture’, leading to its separation from life, ‘as though there were culture on the one side and life on the other; as if true culture were not a refined means of understanding and exercising life’. He opposed this ‘cultural Pantheon’ to the ethnic culture of Mexico where ‘there is no art: things are made for use’. Theatre and its Double contained an unusually suggestive, poetic vision of the theatre which, as the only direct and total art form, offers a chance of recovering culture as a full and undivided mode of living. Artaud described his envisioned theatre as ‘alchemical’ (able to invoke a spiritual transformation) and ‘cruel’ (uncompromising in tearing the spectator away from passive observation, while also aiming at the most essential experiences of human existence). He also compared it to a plague. Artaud led the way for twentieth-century experiments in theatre whose aim was finding a means of recovering social and individual effectiveness. These experiments led, initially, towards rites and ancient ritual spectacles, traces of which Artaud could see in the Balinese dances. He also searched for traces among the Tarahumara people in Mexico, whom he visited in 1936, marking the first of many twentieth-century theatrical-anthropological journeys. He was declared mentally ill and having returned to France in 1937 was placed in a psychiatric institution, from which he was released only two years before his death. His ideas, expressed in an unusually suggestive and powerful language, inspired the theatrical experiments of, among others, Peter Brook and The Living Theatre. In the West, Grotowski was considered a continuator of Artaud and was often compared to him by, among others, Brook and Jean-Louis Barrault, who presented Grotowski with a portrait of Artaud. Grotowski, though, denied any direct inspiration and distanced himself from Artaud, whom he considered a visionary lacking precision and concrete methodological proposals. Over time it has become fairly evident that connecting Grotowski to Artaud was a means for Western artists and critics to find known reference points which would allow them to make familiar and less alien some of the otherness of the Laboratory Theatre.


Antonin Artaud: Teatr i jego sobowtór, przełożył Jan Błoński, Warszawa 1966.

Jerzy Grotowski: Nie był cały sobą, „Odra” 1967 nr 1 (71), s. 31–34. Przedruk [w:] Jerzy Grotowski: Teksty z lat 1965–1969. Wybór, wybór i redakcja Janusz Degler, Zbigniew Osiński, Wrocław 1989, s. 40–49; wydanie 2 poprawione i uzupełnione 1990, s. 40–49; wydanie 3 – 1999; także [w:] tegoż: Ku teatrowi ubogiemu, Wrocław 2007, s. 113–121.

Leszek Kolankiewicz: Święty Artaud, wydanie 2 rozszerzone, Gdańsk 2002.