Joan Miró was committed to his times and his country, as he proved in his speech when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Barcelona on 2 October, 1979.
Miró spoke of a “human approach” which is innate to all artists, binding them to society with a sense of their responsibility as citizens and driving them to create with the aim of “serving all men”. As proof of this claim, Miró created numerous posters throughout his life, seeking to have his voice be that of a community. In the streets, his posters became public action and broke the boundaries of authorship to become expressions of social engagement.
Some of these posters, which synthesize causes and projects to which Miró was committed, now allow us to illustrate his speech from 1979. Both the posters and the speech have been sources of inspiration for the “What are your causes?” workshop organized by the Fundació Joan Miró as part of the Open City Thinking Biennale.
In addressing the University of Barcelona, which is conferring upon me today the high honour of including me among its professors, first of all it behoves me to thank you. I am therefore expressing my most sincere gratitude for your having offered me a place within this institution in which men as diverse as Milà i Fontanals and Pere Bosch Gimpera have done so much, in such different times, to build and exalt the cultural life of Catalonia.
As everyone knows, my specialty is not expressing myself in verbal language. My language is the visual, it is painting, and it is with this language that I have tried, throughout my life, to express my thoughts and feelings, to say whatever I felt I must say.
For this reason, rather than offer you today a lesson made up of words, I would like for you to call to mind the memory of my paintings. I hope that you will find in them everything I could not possibly say in any other way.
In spite of it all, perhaps it would be worthwhile to use this solemn occasion to clarify something, if not to attempt to explain my work, which is not my job, then to attempt to explain some of the profound reasons for my human attitude, because it is in human attitudes that all works of art have their roots.
What I want to talk about is my conception of the artist, as a person with a special civic responsibility.
In this sense, I understand the artist to be someone who, amidst the silence of others, uses his voice to say something, and who has the obligation that this thing not be useless but something that offers a service to man.
For, the fact of being able to say something, when the majority of people do not have the option of expressing themselves, obliges this voice in some wat to be prophetic. To be, in a certain sense, the voice of its community.
For when an artist speaks from a country like ours, cruelly marginalized by an adverse history, one must make his voice heard throughout the world, to affirm, against all ignorance, all misunderstandings, and all bad faith, that Catalonia exists, that it is original and it is alive.
Model for the poster “Volem l’Estatut” (1977), the poster “Congrés de Cultura Catalana”(1977) and the newpaper Avui (1976).
For when an artist speaks surrounded by an international culture and by elitist refinements, he must not let himself be trapped in the cloister of culture or of the elites, and he must want to communicate directly, to learn things and to express them, with the profound wisdom of the people, the origin and ultimate destiny of any truly human enterprise, not letting any barrier or class impede him.
For when an artist speaks in an environment in which freedom is difficult, he must turn each of his works into a negation of the negations, in any untying of all oppressions, all prejudices, and all the false established values.
Poster “UNESCO. Miró. Human rights” (1974), “Amnesty International” (1976) and “UNESCO. Miró. Derechos humanos” (1974).
For when others around him work positively in all kinds of enterprises in the service of man in general and in particular of his own people and the complete realization of their history, the artist must not shrink from all these initiatives or all these efforts and must give to all the support of both his personal presence and of the efficacy that his work may have.
I am happy to have the occasion to make resound in this room, already laden with a century of the history of our country, these words of human solidarity, of fidelity to the earth, of direct dialogue beyond the borders of a society divided into classes, and of devotion to the enterprise of freedom.
I dare to believe that, if you do me the great honour you are doing me today, of receiving me in this university, it is because this university is also disposed to make these goals its own and because, for you as well as for me, these goals are vitally linked to hope.
Thank you very much.
Joan Miró’s speech on the occasion of his being named Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Barcelona, October 2, 1979.