Sunday 8 January 2012

Muse on Picasso

I enjoyed the Picasso exhibition more because it was fascinating to see his work displayed chronologically from the early 20thC up until his last works in 1972. I wouldn't have gone if not for Rodney organising it as I'm not a great fan of his art. But in the history of 20thC western art Picasso is a phenomenon that can't be ignored because he has become so mythologised. For a contemporary 21stC artist that sociological history alone is worth examining.

I have no interest (or time) in expounding a great academic treatise so heres some brief musings...

* modern viewers of Picassos art (and his artist contemporaries such as Braque, et al) from the turn of the century have lost conciousness of just how very shocking those original cubist works were. We have become so accustomed to seeing them for nearly a 100 hundred years that they can seem rather ordinary, even trite.

* european avant garde artists of that era were greatly influenced by modern technological change. 2 important aspects that can be remarked on, necessarily concise here...

1. The advent of photography - ordinary people of all classes of society were able to obtain realistic images of themselves and the world, abundantly and cheaply, thus one of the centuries old roles of the artist - to record people, their homes, possessions and events - was hugely reduced. Artists were no longer needed for this purpose and had to substantially reinvent why painting had any use or value to the contemporary world.

2. Advances in science and physics were explaining all sorts of things that had previously seemed mysterious - for example, how light and colour act on 3 dimensional objects, how the eye and brain act simultaneously to "see" things, colour photography was being developed. The development of the "cubist" style was influenced by these scientific discoveries and theories, Picasso and his friends were trying capture how we really see things before the brain puts its own interpretation onto what is present.

*influence of  Globalisation - Picasso and his avant garde art friends were the first to take seriously the art of other races and cultures outside of Europe. They were deeply affected by their realisation that human beings of all races, cultures and times have felt compelled to create objects and representations we call "art."

Picasso and his friends were curious, brave and dedicated to their passion for depicting their world and trying to find a meaning in it other than mimetic representation. What annoys me about this era is my opinion that it can be misunderstood by ordinary people who haven't studied art history and sometimes people can  buy into the mythology of the "mad genius" artist (always male), a cult that Pablo Picasso has become the iconic progenitor of. To european society coming out the Victorian era the radical art movements of that time could only be rationally attributed to being created by people who were mad, unstable mentally...perhaps even "degenerate" as the Nazis described them. But put into the context of some of the sociological and scientific advents of the time briefly outlined here I think my first sentence of this paragraph is a more realistic and accurate way to view him and his contemporaries.

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