Research Proposal: Picasso Cubism Culture

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Picasso, Cubism, Culture

Picasso, Cubism and culture

The "invention" or creation of Cubism has elicited a huge library of criticism and studies attempting to explain this artistic phenomenon that is largely associated with the works of Picasso and Braque. While there is no definitive definition of cubism, a working definition that can be applied is simply that cubism is a new artistic mode or method of perceiving reality. As one writer in the subject states, Picasso initiated a "revolt" against Western representation in art and developed knew methods of "… inventing truth that enables him to break old laws…" ( Walther 33).

At the outset I feel that it is important to make the distinction between the artistic process and the analysis of art from the perspective of the critic. In contradistinction to many of the works on Cubism, in my opinion the artist does not consciously invent and work out an empirical scheme to deal with an artistic problem. In my view an artist like Picasso responds. His work is a response to the needs that he intuitively feels in the artistic as well as social and cultural environment that surrounds him. This is the view that contradicts to a certain extent the thesis of Karmel's work on cubism.

In other words, the stance that I have taken in response to the various readings on cubism is that, in the first instance, the artist works and creates in relation to the dictates and process of art and to the social and cultural milieu in which he or she lives. Stated in another way, cubism emerged, not as critics like Karmel imply as an idea that was consciously formulated and worked on, but rather as a natural and largely unconscious process in the mind of the artist. From this perspective we could suggest that Picasso unconsciously responded to what was needed in the development of his art and to what he felt was lacking in representational painting and sculpture. Therefore a central response to these readings is that I believe that the origins of Cubism lie more in an unconscious or even preconscious mode of thought rather than in a conscious and objective thinking about the direction of art.

The two works that will be considered in this discussion and which will from the background to the analysis of cubism are Picasso and the Invention of Cubism by Karmel ( 2003) and a Sum of Destructions: Picasso's Cultures and the Creation of Cubism ( 2001) by Natasha Staller.

2. Views on Cubism

2.1. Karmel

Karmel in Picasso and the Invention of Cubism (2003) takes the general view that Picasso consciously developed a new artistic language in an attempt to break the hold of representational thinking on art. The author clearly states the importance of the intentional creation of a formal artistic language that was to become known as cubism.

….great variety of meanings?

philosophical, political or biographical?

can be discovered in Cubist paintings and sculptures.

But, for the most part, these meanings might equally well have been communicated in some other, more conventional way. The truly new and distinctive feature of Cubism is its formal language.

(Karmel, 2003, p. viii)

The development of a new 'formal language" is an important aspect and one which few can disagree with. This extensive and enlightening work goes on to describe the elements, as Karmel determines them, of this new formal language. For example, he notes Picasso's attempt to depict the body with more depth and solidity and the way in which the model of stage space is used to free art from conventional perspective. In other words, the development of the new language that we call cubism was also the creation of a new artistic space.

Karmel also isolates a number of 'key ideas' that are essential to the understanding of cubism. These include the empiricist theory of perception and the view that the work of art should not imitate reality but "…should offer an 'equivalent' for experience, expressed in the language of visual symbols" (Karmel, 2003, p. 2). The empirical perception refers to the breakdown of art and painting into abstract elements.

These are all very useful theoretical and analytical tools which can be used to explore the development of cubism in both Picasso and Braque. However, the main problem that I have with this very formal perception of cubism is that it implies a conscious and objectivist approach on the part of the artist. Karmel makes these theoretical assumptions largely on the basis of a comparison of the drawing that Picasso made, which he uses to imply a conscious progression in the artists work. However he does not address the question of the transition between the sketches and the finished paintings. He also divides his understanding of cubism into a number of related section; namely, "Ideas," "Spaces," "Bodies," and "Signs." However this analysis of cubism is problematic. As one critic has noted; "One of the larger questions that will eventually need to be raised in relation to the text is whether it in fact makes sense to carve things up in this way." (Picasso: Style and Meaning)

Another related aspect is that Karmel does not allow for ambiguity and indeterminacy in the creation of Picasso's cubistic works but treats the development of cubism as a conceptual process that has a linear progression of development. "Ambivalence has no place in his book. We hear neither of regret or hesitation on Picasso's part nor of the ambiguous, "reversible" structures that other scholars have seen as integral to the artist's Cubism." (Picasso: Style and Meaning) This criticism is also related to the artistic process, which is most often not linear and consecutive but is usually discursive and based on intuition feeling. In Karmel's view the artist rationally and intellectually discovers problems and then searches for solution to these problems. This would seem to deny the artistic process which includes ambiguity and chance, and which are essential elements of the style of cubism.

While Karmel's analysis certainly adds to the understanding of cubism it also tends to distort to a certain extent the very nature of cubism. Cubism is a form of art that emerged as a reaction as well to the time in which Picasso lived. It must be remembered that the reaction against representation was also part of a larger reaction to a society that was in decline and a time in which artists and writers were questioning society ands culture. This interrogation of conventional values was to increase after the devastating First World War. The impact and influence of culture and environment is explored in the second reference work under discussion. In essence the underlying impetus behind cubism was the search for new realities and modes of expression in a world that was increasingly decadent and morally suspect.

2.2 Natasha Staller

The study by Natasha Staller is in my view closer to the spirit of Cubism. Her work entitled a Sum of Destructions: Picasso's Cultures and the Creation of Cubism ( 2001) is concerned with the various influences, both social and culture as well as idiosyncratic, that influenced his works and the origins of cubism. For example, the author finds correspondences between some of Picasso's work and the images and techniques in the films of Georges Melies, the French moviemaker and special-effects pioneer. (Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism )

The central focus in this work is more directed at cultural and political aspects that may have influenced his works. The suggestion that permeates this extensive work is that the origins of cubism were deeply influenced by Picasso's past life and by the various images and myths that formed part of the wealth of his cultural heritage and social awareness. There is also a great deal, of emphasis on his early years and the different cultural influences, from Malaga to La Coruna, Barcelona, and finally to Paris. One review of this book which sums up the significance of this work from an understanding of cubism suggests the following assessment;

A Sum of Destructions portrays Picasso as a thoroughly modern artist on a resolutely traditional quest: "Struggling to make sense of experience," Staller writes, "to make meaning, to make beauty-even as he redefined what was beautiful-goes to the core of what it means to be human."

(Natasha Staller Offers a New Look at Picasso, His Artistic Imagination and Cubism)

The phrase used above, "struggling to make sense of experience" encapsulates much of the spirit of cubism. Picasso and other artists were concerned with a struggle to understand the underlying reality of everyday experience, which necessitated new and innovative means of expression.

However, critics have also pointed out certain problems in this study by Natasha Staller. One criticism is that her analysis of the influences that led to cubism sometimes go too far or are too obtuse to be of real significance. An example that is given is the reference to texts that are not visible in the art works, such as texts… [END OF PREVIEW]

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