Picasso Haters! – Part 2

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon Image
“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” Pablo Picasso

The purpose of this second installment in my discussion of Picasso is to explain WHAT it is about his work that makes it so important and , yes, why it IS art, in fact, likely the most important contribution to art in the 20th Century.

Japanese Print Image
“Evening Shower at Atake and the Great Bridge,”Japanese Print by Hiroshige

In my last post, Picasso Haters!, I mapped out the representational art environment/history that led up to Picasso’s appearance on stage. You can catch up by visiting that post HERE.

So, one last huge development that changed Western painting, before Picasso makes his appearance. Japan ended it isolationist policy in the middle of the 19th Century and  began exporting to the outside world. Japanese Prints were so plentiful in Europe, that you could even find them wrapped around exported pottery, to protect the objects from breakage. Contemporary artists at the time, among them,

Van Gogh Painting Image
Painted copy of the Japanese Print by Vincent Van Gogh

VanGogh, Gauguin, Degas and Lautrec saw this stunning artwork for the first time, with its strong use of outline, flat color and its lack of shadows. The effect caused a seachange and Post Impressionism was born.

This is the world Pablo Picasso entered in 1900, when he arrived in Paris. His first efforts were highly influenced by the work of the Post Impressionists, but he still managed to contribute something brand new here: monochromatic painting. Before Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods no artist had thought to limit their palettes to a single hue.

Blue Period Painting
Painting from PIcasso’s “Blue Period.”

But an even bigger invention was presented around 1910.  Inspired by the later works of Paul Cézanne, Picasso and Georges Braque blew apart painting and reassembled it. Frustrated by the fact that, unlike sculpture, painting had been limited to describing subject matter from a single point of view, Braque and Picasso sought a more honest way to represent a 3 dimensional world on a 2 dimensional surface. The result was the multiple view point perspective approach, Cubism (Analytical Cubism) to be more precise.

To better understand Picasso, it’s important that

Analytical Cubism Image
“Portrait of Ambroise Vollard,” Picasso, analytical cubism.

you understand how Fine Art changed direction here. With cubism, fine art was no longer just about a beautiful esthetic, as it had been up to this point in history. Cubism raised concept to the top of the list, above beauty. So now we have art divided into 3 general categories: commercial art (illustration), gallery art (a search for a beautiful esthetic) and museum or fine art (intellectual pursuits). Picasso was the king of conceptual art and would remain so his entire life.

Others before him, had already separated painting from its marriage to the realistic representational image, Picasso realized he was now presented with the ball and given the opportunity to run with it as far as he could.

He broke painting into 6 graphic means, means for arriving at an end: line, form, value, color, texture and pattern. This enabled him to think of them as independent entities, to be used all alone, if desired, as well as used together in combination. This led to uncovering various systems of abstraction (ways to abstract): reductive abstraction, geometric abstraction, organic abstraction and the use of multiple viewpoint perspective in abstraction.

Guernica Image
“Guernica,” Pablo Picasso, synthetic cubism.

Through his exploration, in addition to cubism and monochromatic painting, he invented collage, assemblage and found object construction. Before he was done, he’d produced 200,000 pieces of art and covered every form of abstraction that could be created from subject matter. Since Picasso, any time an artist, abstracting from subject matter, believes they’re on a new course,

The Artist's Mother Image
“The Artist’s Mother,” Pablo Picasso, realism.

they round a corner and run right, smack into Picasso. In fear of taking on Picasso, after world World War II, painters in New York avoided subject matter altogether and Abstract Expressionism was the result. Even here you could make the argument that Abstract Expressionism was heavily influenced by some of Picasso’s brushwork.

Many believe Picasso did what he did, because he lacked traditional skills. They’d be wrong. Picasso could draw and paint like an angel and did consistently, alongside his abstractions, throughout his career.

Three Musicians Image
“Three Musicians,” Pablo Picasso, geometric abstraction.

So when you stand before a Picasso, realize what you’re looking at is an intellectual pursuit, that values concept over pleasing esthetic, created by a genius who invented many of the forms of art in use today, that this artist almost single handedly brought us Modern Art, taking art from the Post Impressionist to the Abstract Expressionists. It’s not important that it be pretty, just that it’s brilliant!


Picasso Haters!

Girl Before a Mirror Image
“Girl Before a Mirror,” Pablo Picasso

I work both abstractly and representationally, so my work connects me with representational painters and enthusiasts, as well as those who work with or love abstraction. Because I use multiple viewpoint perspective* in my abstract work , it often initiates conversations about cubism and Picasso. Contributing to these discussions, I’ve discovered a whole lot of people who tell me they don’t like Picasso…in fact, some say they HATE Picasso!

Rare Sighting Image
My multiple viewpoint perspective painting, “Rare Sighting,” 40” x 30, ”oil on canvas, $4,000.00.

Further inquisition reveals that most of this group misunderstand what they’re perceiving when they stand before a Picasso work. You’ll often overhear a judgement like, “That’s not art!,” from someone viewing one of this Spaniard’s paintings or sculptures. In a way, they’re right, it’s NOT a particular KIND of art. The reality is that since the middle or late 19th century Art has been divided into categories.

Prior to the mid 19th century all Art fell into one category, representational art.  Art had actually been more of a  commercial endeavor and was often the product of a team of craftsmen, working under the direction of a master craftsman to arrive at a product commissioned by a paying customer. Most of those commissions were initiated by the Catholic or Orthodox Churches, which both required an almost impossible number of images, sculptures, stained glass windows, alters and even churches to communicate their message to an illiterate public. These collections of craftsmen were often capable of designing and fabricated all the above listed items for their customers, a kind of one stop shop. Representational imagery was key to communication, so the competition among the Art Shops was fierce as to who could delivery the most convincing Realism.

Camera Obscura Image
Demonstration of an early Camera Obscura

The artisans had no qualms or guilts surrounding mechanical assistance in arriving at their representational ends. They were competing with each other in a race to create the most realistic images possible. Realism translated into bucks, more commissions meant more money in their pockets, so when the single or vanishing point perspective system, for achieving realistic perspective, was uncovered, they lapped it up. The camera obscura, a mechanical device that allowed projection of the world onto a piece of paper, panel or canvas for tracing, introduced during the Italian Renaissance,  was welcomed by many of these craftsman, as a quick and accurate method for achieving realism. The point is, Art was a highly commercial endeavor, the faster, more accurate and efficient images could be created, the better. No one cared how they got there. There was no such thing as a Fine Art, only paying customers.

In the 16th Century Protestantism arrived and brought with it The Reformation, which sought to return believers to religious fundamentals and strip away, what was felt, were blasphemous religious practices, among them, the creation of graven images or idolatry. Remember the printing press had been invented by now and people were beginning to read, the church was no longer dependent on imagery for communication.

With the loss of this meal ticket, the popularity of the multi-artist studio began to give way to solo artist practitioners. They may have utilized an assistant or two, but the production process was greatly scaled down. Efficiency and the assistance of whatever devices were available was as important as ever. The major customers now, were civic institutions or wealthy patrons interested in having pertinent events, important individuals or history (real or fictional) recorded for posterity. Again, communication was the goal and realism the best vehicle for the communication.

Early Photographer Photo
Early photographer

Remember the artist’s friend the camera obscura? Well, over time it was fitted with a ground lens and reduced in size, from its original configuration as a small room, to something that could be carried around and used on location. In the middle of the 19th a practical method appeared that could take the image captured directly by the camera and reproduce multiple copies of it. Photography was born. With real images of people and events now available, painted versions, as documentation, were less necessary or desirable.

This unexpected development (excuse the pun), changed the way artists perceived what it was they were doing. They became more introspective, started looking at how they applied paint, how they mixed color, how they delivered the illusion of space, etc. One outcome was Impressionism, where, less concerned with realism, artists applied paint loosely and dabbed raw color directly on the canvas, requiring viewers to complete the paintings, in their mind’s eye. Here, for the first time, a division in art begins. Art is divided into art for commercial purposes (illustration) and a new Fine Art, an art for art’s sake.

Galleries for public viewing of art began to appear in the middle 18th century, where, prior to this, all would have been secreted away in private collections of the church, royalty or the wealthy. These public spaces really took off in the 19th century, where the average citizen now had access to viewing art in every city, around the world.

With the stage now set for Picasso’s entrance, I’ll present the man himself in my next post and explain why he is considered the creative genius of the 19th and 20th centuries.

*An approach that considers the subject matter from all sides, then represents that data, at the same time, in a single image…think cubism.