“Artists are men who wish to become inhuman. They seek painfully the traces of inhumanity, traces which are never found in nature. These are real truths and beyond them we know no reality.” 1
Art such as paintings and sculptures are man’s way of expressing their thoughts. In the eyes of an artist, they can see the suffering behind the beauty, and this reason allows them to create beautiful artworks. Artists desire to fully express themselves using only their canvass and their brush; hence, they will attempt to construct their masterpiece in the most creative way in order to deliver their message to the viewer. In the contrary with the earlier art forms, Cubism is quite similar to an abstract art. Earlier art forms such those made by the ancient Greeks only focus on the aesthetic value of the work. On the other hand, Cubism focuses on the naked truth and harsh reality. The figures are literally distorted; faces are altered to lessen the human resemblance, whilst still retaining the message of the artist. Pablo Picasso, a celebrated Spanish painter and sculptor of the late 19th century, spearheaded the development of Cubism. During the earlier times, many people did not like Picasso’s weird style because his artworks are rubbish compared to the works of Impressionist painters. But the main thing that Cubism does is to portray the reality, no matter how ugly it is. Cubism, unlike any other art styles do not focus in presenting the subject in a single perspective; actually Cubists attempt to present their subject from a multiple perspective in order to emphasize the subject in a broader context. The use of puns, jokes and even visual games helped Cubists such as Picasso and Braque to attract the attention of the viewers.
- Apollinaire Guillaume, Dorothea Eimert, and Anatoli Podoksik. Cubism. (New York: Parkstone International, 2010), 11.
Originally, Cubism started as an idea which is derived from Paul Cezanne’s work. As a French artist of the Post-Impressionism, he laid down the foundations of Cubism. Most of Cezanne’s work deal with three things: multiple viewpoints, geometry and dimension; which became the fundamentals for the works of the cubists. Cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque played an important role to the development of a groundbreaking new artistic style. They base their artworks on double entendre (puns) and visual challenges (abstract). Les Demoiselles d'Avignon created by Pablo Picasso was often cited as the first Cubism painting. However, due to the conservative views of the society at that time, the painting was not shown until 1916. In a closer look, Picasso’s painting combines the three elements of Cezanne: the painting has multiple viewpoints that allows the viewers to see the image on a different perspective. Naked bodies of women outside the brothel of d'Avignon were depicted in a weird, geometrical fashion of exaggerated lines and shapes of their bodies, whilst dimension also provides a depth to the subject. Cubism is filled with puns and this adds a creative touch to the painting. According to Summers, he defines Cubism as a part of realism. But the main goal of Cubism is to make the painting to look less than the subject.2
Irony is cruel, whilst in art abstraction is cruelty. Images drawn in Cubist style have a very comic appearance such as The Weeping Woman painted by Picasso. Usually pictures are sketched in an amusing way; long wavy hair, exaggerated facial expressions, slashing geometrical lines and vivid colorings.
- David Summers, “Cubism as a Comic Style” The Massachusetts Review, Inc. 22, no. 4 (1981): 641, accessed November 1, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25089203.
Picasso attempts to depict the suffering of the woman in the picture. Her sadness was so great that it caused her facial features to become less-amiable in the eye. Originally, the painting was supposed to portray the ill-effects of the Spanish Civil War; however, Picasso just concentrated on portraying the suffering of a woman alone. Louis Vauxcelles, a French art connoisseur originally suggested the term ‘cubism’ after seeing Braque’s landscape paintings and their similarity to cubes. Unlike the Impressionists, Cubist artists discarded the idea of copying the subjects and making them akin to the real one. They thought that painting should remain as painting and the image subjects shall remain as it is. Furthermore, they revolutionized their paintings by drawing figures of human into splendid geometric shapes.3
Cubists dissected their subjects through the use of lines and geometric shapes. Following the tradition of Cezanne, they focused more on simplifying the images until they less resemble the real subject. Many experts believed that cubism is actually a ‘joke work’ because it simply ridicules the reality. For years, experts are pretty much intrigued by the works and life of Pablo Picasso. As one of the pioneers of the modern art styles, his interest towards the sexual portrayal of his subjects are notorious amongst people and even in the field of cognitive psychology. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon defines phallocentrism, and according to Chave, “a narrative of exclusion, a story told by a heterosexual white male of European descent for an audience
answering to the same description . . . the stories told ever since . . .have mostly been no less narratives told by straight white males for a like public”4 (quoted in Ettinger 1996). ____________________________
- Tom Ettinger, “Picasso, Cubism and the Eye of the Beholder: Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Psychology” American Imago, John Hopkins University Press 53, no. 1 (1996): 60.
- Ibid., 53
Cubism is not considered as a type of art style during the 19th century because of its deformed appearance. Likewise, people had a really hard time understanding the work created by the cubists because they are all abstract. In addition, in order to attract viewers, Picasso also used ‘visual puns’ in one of his paintings such as the “Houses on the Hill” or Horta de Ebro which he painted in 1909. Picasso’s analogous cubism resulted visual overlaps wherein various points coincide with several geometrical shapes of different sizes. Hence, the lines and shapes in the painting ‘fools’ the viewer’s eyes which leads to a different perception of the painting itself. Included in the painting are the various spatial relationships such as ‘false attachment’. False attachment occurs in art. This happens when a single line found at the edge of one object meets the edges of another one in the painting. 5
Looking closely at the painting, viewers will be able to notice all the buildings that stood at the back right of the drawing. By analyzing the figures individually, one will notice that Picasso had drawn a small building and is attached to the other building next to it. The building attachments were quite unclear and might cause a confusion to the naked eye but this is the actual evidence of ‘spatial ambiguity’ which is highlighted and determined because of the inconsistent coloring of the unclear parts of the painting. As a whole, the “Houses on the Hill” painting is actually an example of analytical cubism wherein Picasso abandoned the common three-dimensional quality. Instead, he simplified the drawings and dissected the images using lines and geometrical shapes. The picture still retains the quality of three-dimensional, but in a form of cubes. All the houses atop the hills appear as they are attached to one another because of the lines.
- Katherine Shingler, “Poetry into painting: Mallarmé, and Punning” French Cultural Studies, Sage Publications 24, no. 4 (2013): 351.
Perhaps the most common feature of Cubism paintings is the visual games they portray. This is a very astute way of gathering the attention of most people because Cubist painters tend to play with their subjects and challenge the minds of their viewers. Although Picasso is one of the leading pioneers of abstract art, the painting “Mandola” made by Georges Braque presents an intricate quality of geometrical shapes being grouped together to form the image of a ‘mandolin’, an Italian instrument during the Renaissance period.6 It is also an example of analytical cubism wherein the viewer can hardly identify what the subject is because the artist had already reduced the image into a much simpler image consisting of geometrical shapes and hard, solid lines that dissect the image to several specimen.
Braque’s painting cannot appreciated at its best when it is viewed closely rather than closely looking at the painting to decipher its meaning. In order to see the picture of the mandola against the background of eccentric shapes, one should stand far away to the painting and allow their gaze to penetrate the depths of the squares.7 The squares and rectangles along with the light and dark coloring, viewers can be able to see the picture of a mandolin being held in hand, perhaps by a musician. The solid, black lines drawn heavy at the center serves as an indicator to find the pattern for the mandolin. In this way, the artist was giving a hint to his viewers about the subject of his painting. Although Cubism was highly disregarded during the time of Picasso and Braques, their contributions to the field of Art is incomparable because it reflects the way people think and perceive the world they lived in. Their creative imaginations allows the modern-day viewers of their paintings to explore the artists’ thoughts and feelings.
- David Cottington. Cubism and its Histories. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 66
- Guillaume Apollinaire and Peter Read. The Cubist Painters (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 13
Apollinaire, Guillaume, Dorothea Eimert, and Anatolii Podoksik. 2010. Cubism. New York: Parkstone International.
Apollinaire, Guillaume, and Peter Read. 2004. The Cubist Painters. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Cottington, David. 2004. Cubism and Its Histories. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Ettinger, Tom. 1996. 'Picasso, Cubism, and the Eye of the Beholder: Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Psychology'. American Imago 53 (1): 53-89. doi:10.1353/aim.1995.0012.
Shingler, Katherine. 2013. 'Poetry into Painting: Mallarmé, and Punning'. French Cultural Studies, Sage Publications 24 (4): 346-358.
Summers, David. 1981. 'Cubism as a Comic Style'. The Massachusetts Review, 641--659. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25089203.