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Diverging through Picasso's paintings

amirbey's picture

                When I was in middle school, my Spanish teacher decided to take her class on a trip to Spain in order to familiarize her students with the culture we were learning about.  She chose to go to Barcelona which is to me one of the richest artistic cities in the world.  It was once there that I finally discovered the wonderful art of Pablo Picasso.  I had already familiarized myself with the painter, but in this Spanish city I witnessed for the very first time some of his paintings in a museum dedicated to him: El Museo Picasso.  I really appreciated the way the exhibition went, because I could see the evolution of his work of art from the moment he started to paint passing through his blue period, to the ending with a new concept: cubism.  I believe that it is interesting to analyze the evolution of Picasso’s art and find a link between Walt Whitman’s poetry and question whether or not their work of art is unconscious or conscious. 

                Picasso grew up in an artistic background, since he was the son of Don Jose Ruiz y Blanco, a painter and drawing teacher.  Picasso started painting his first oil on canvas at the age of eight years old.  At that time, his paintings were very concrete.  They were representing real facts or real people.  Picasso was so talented that with all the details he included in his paintings, he made them look like pictures taken from a camera.  In fact, when Picasso was young he would paint images representing objects he had seen before.  For the audience Picasso’s earliest paintings were clear conscious representations of reality.  Nonetheless, for Picasso the paintings were unconscious memories located in his brain from past experiences.  This is how his encounter with the unconscious began at an early age.

                At the age of twenty, Picasso lost a dear friend, Casagemas, and it was the moment when he started to paint many portraits of his comrade.  These portraits inaugurated his blue period, in which the color blue was dominant in all of his paintings.  The color blue was supposed to represent the view the artist had of the world.  Indeed, blue is considered a “cold” color, and I think that at this moment of his life, Picasso was feeling depressed, sad, and also tormented by the idea of getting old, of the misery in the world and mostly of his friend’s death.  I imagine that the blue was a well chosen color to represent his feelings, because it works quite well with me too.  Watching dark blue paintings make me feel uncomfortable and depressed.  I believe that unconsciously in his mind, he saw only darkness and blue appeared to be the best color to represent his mind-set.  I am not sure if this choice of color was coming from his consciousness or his unconsciousness.  I believe he might have been conscious he was using some blue in his paintings, but maybe the color itself came from the unconsciousness of his mind.  Maybe Picasso had viewed the suicide of his friend as the sea, carrying away his life, and therefore, had assimilated the color blue to represent this idea coming from his unconscious mind.            

               Five years later, Picasso developed a new concept of painting known as cubism.  Indeed, he tried to represent a three dimensional image on a two dimensional paper.  He replaced the usual color, shades, volumes and perspective codes with geometric symbols.  I think that by choosing cubism, it was Picasso’s conscious decision to create an art so abstract that is would bring the unconsciousness out of his audience.  That is to say, it was so abstract that the viewers could see different ideas coming from the same painting and they could interpret differently what they witnessed.  It is clear to me that Picasso, just like Whitman from his merging in his poetry, acquired a divergence of thoughts and ideas from his audience.  Indeed, his art had no gender so everybody could identify themselves with each and every one of his paintings which created a diversity of ideas and memories.  People could, and still can, while looking at abstract art, generate different feelings.  A painting can make the audience remember a part of their lives, a certain place they have been to, or the memory of an important person, and therefore, it helps them escape the world they are in to go to this memory or to this strange and maybe new feeling.  Throughout his art, Picasso first brought something new to his audience, but also he introduced to them a whole new feeling.    

                Like Picasso, Whitman’s writing brings the unconsciousness out of his readers through his poetry. I can see a clear connection between Picasso’s paintings and Whitman’s writings.  In fact, Whitman is simply representing the image of the world as he sees it, in which we can see different places, different people, and different aspects of life all encountered in a single poem.  For instance, in Leaves of Grass, Whitman describes different objects, places and people, where he states

everyday objects…the housechairs, the carpet, the bed and the counterpane of the bed, and him or her sleeping at night, and the wind blowing, and the indefinite noises: The snowstorm or rainstorm…the tow-trowsers…the lodge-hut in the woods, and the still-hunt: City and country…fireplace and candle…gaslight and heater and aqueduct (Whitman, 74).

It is evident from this quote that Whitman is trying to incorporate in his writing a diversity of subjects and things that integrate with one another in a world not precisely defined, yet a world that evokes emotions from the unconsciousness of his readers, just like Picasso did with his paintings.  Cubism for Picasso was a way to illustrate his reality which had more than two sides. For Whitman, writing was also a way to represent his reality, which like Picasso translated in a form of evoking feelings from his audience. The purpose of this art is to evoke emotions from the unconsciousness that the readers and viewers are too afraid to face.  That is to say, Picasso and Whitman only bring out emotions already existing within the audience and the readers.  However, those feelings are perhaps too scary for the audience to face and that is the reason why they remain in their unconsciousness.  It is not until the viewers see the paintings and writings that those feelings emerge from their unconsciousness and evolve into a reality.  These emotions that surface become then a form of divergence through the evolution of emotions that I experience when I read and see Whitman’s and Picasso’s art. 

                I think that cubism is a good representation of Whitman’s work in a painting.  Both of their work is an amazing representation of the evolution of the emotions that Picasso and Whitman evoke in their audience. Pablo Picasso was an amazing painter who started his career representing what was in his unconscious mind, and as he grew up learned to get in control of his mind, to consciously make the choice of painting an abstract art in order to generate a new feeling coming from the unconsciousness of his audience.  He was one of the first artists to innovate in his art, and from having his viewers merge in his paintings, he could create a divergence of feelings and new ways to see the world.


Anne Dalke's picture

thinking through Whitman to Picasso

It’s a real delight for me to see you taking the “arc” of this course and expand it into other dimensions, to think through Whitman to Picasso. Picasso’s a particularly apt choice because of the evolution of painting into increasing abstract forms.

Your paper really has three dimensions: the history of the change in Picasso’s painting; the similarities between what he and Whitman were doing; and the ways in which his work provokes different responses among us, as members of his audience. That makes the paper itself very diffuse—going in three directions, it doesn’t go very far in any one of them, and leaves me w/ lots of questions. Do you want to pursue any of them?
You present your argument, first, as a series of your own “beliefs”: “I think that at this moment of his life, Picasso was feeling depressed”; I believe that unconsciously in his mind, he saw only darkness and blue”; What are the sources of those beliefs? What research have you done (or could you do, would you like to do) to learn about how Picasso understood this process, or how other art critics have talked about it?
A particular point of interest, to me, is why Picasso developed cubism, why he chose to highlight, and to abstract, the process of representing three dimensions in two.

Can you tell me more about you mean when you discuss “the evolution of Picasso’s art”? Are you using the word evolution simply as a synonym for change, or is it a more technical term (these are taken from our course notes) evoking “random change, history dependence, differential persistence….”? What remained of history, in his innovations? Wherefrom the changes?