Incomprehensible

When I were a young lad, I took a course in Art Appreciation, and I have to say it opened up my eyes to art, big time. For the first time I was able to appreciate, truly appreciate, the skill of the old masters — the golden triangle, the use of light and color, how different brushes and brushstrokes worked to create mood, its effect on the history of its time, and all that. My life was changed and enriched, and I look back on the class and its teacher with complete fondness because it opened a door for me, and I walked right on in.

I never got Picasso.

Now granted, I was similarly at a loss when looking at the Blue School, the Modernists (like Klee and Pollock) and what have you; but I always thought that Picasso’s art was wrong: it transformed the human form — and especially that of women — into a caricature, and I’m sorry, but caricature isn’t art, or at least not Fine Art.

And yet Picasso is regarded as one of the Masters by almost everyone. Even his lesser paintings fetch astonishing amounts of money, his life and works are commemorated in terms that border on idolatry, and his style is seen as the end-point, the very denouement of Impressionism; but as hard as I try, I just don’t see it. Here’s one of his most famous works, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon:

…and I know what it is: a depiction of a group of prostitutes in a brothel. And Picasso is looking at them… how? As objects of desire, as depraved women, or as tired working girls? Or is it all three?

Here’s my problem with the piece: it could be any one of those, but his grotesque style makes no statement — it’s left completely up to the audience as to which they see in it.

Now maybe that was his intention, but I have a problem with art that has no artist’s viewpoint, but leaves everything open to interpretation. It’s a cop-out to say, “Well, it’s whatever you want it to be.” My response to that airy nonsense is usually, “I want it to be gone.”

And while I can see why the art world would be immeasurably poorer without the Impressionism of Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Degas and Van Gogh (to name just some), I just can’t say I feel the same about Picasso.

Feel free to add your thoughts in Comments.

15 comments

  1. I generally agree with your sentiment, and apply it also to music and the moderns.

    For a time, I assumed that Picasso and Stravinsky did what they did because they were charlatans who were pulling the wool over their patron’s eyes and were not capable of producing good art.

    Then I heard Stravinsky’s neoclassical works, and saw some of Picasso’s sketches, and realized they actually were capable of producing art I would like. They simply chose not to. Why, I’ll never know.

    I’ll leave you with my favorite Picasso work:
    femme

    What I find intriguing is not the picture itself, but the fact that he captured what he wanted in just 4 simple lines.

    1. I knew what the pic was before I ever clicked on the link. That was a popular poster print back in the ’70s. And it’s um, inspiring, too! 😀

      I was an art major my first time in college. A, I figured out there were enough starving artists in the world, and B, I came to loathe artists, art teachers and pretty much anyone involved in the art world. Biggest bunch of poseurs, stuffed shirts and airheads ever. I became a mechanic instead. I did find a release for my creative impulses by learning design and fabrication, which became the favorite part of my job. I’ve made a lot of pretty cool stuff, having access to a well equipped machine shop and various welding processes.

  2. Kim, you’re right. I read a piece a few years ago that claimed modern art to be a massive scam…critics would buy pieces from a no-talent hack, promote the hack, and sell the artwork they had bought for big money.

    There’s good art being made (try cordair.com for some magnificent works), but it’s off the modern art path.

    It reminds me of a trip I made to the Vatican Museum. Massive amounts of art, people admiring in wonder. Except for the modern gallery. People walked right past that trash.

  3. In some of Picasso’s works it looks like he’s trying to show you the front and profile of someone’s face at the same time. But in “Demoiselles” he’s not trying that. It looks like he’s been staring at carved African masks for too long, and it seems to be a sort of slap dash impressionism – he didn’t want to work on it all week, getting the proportions and form right. It was something he could knock out in a few hours – including mixing the colors.

    The modern art that find particularly insulting are paintings and sculptures that go untitled. When I see something called “Untitled No. 27” I’m just left thinking if the artist wasn’t moved either emotionally or intellectually by their own bloody work to come up with a title for it, why should I be bothered to even look at it?

  4. Tom Wolfe’s excellent “The Painted Word” goes into a fair bit of the actual mechanics of Moderne Ahrt.
    A lot of it was historically tied to Defiant Manifestos of Noble Artistic Purpose, of Epater Le Bourgeois, and all that rot talentless charlatans tend to babble when trying to not feel guilty for getting rich… or to make the rich feel guilty and give them money.

  5. Incomprehensible, indeed. There is no accounting for taste. I get that. Still, I find little worth my time in the abstract and impressionistic, especially if the artist has to explain it to me. If it does not touch something in my soul, then for me, it is not art, but just another picture. For those who enjoy art, may I suggest The Woodpile Report. Each edition begins with a work of art.

    http://www.woodpilereport.com/

  6. In representational art, the artist uses various sets of rules and tricks for fooling the viewer’s eye: The artist understands how the viewer will perceive the image if certain things are done. Is it an accurate mapping of a 3D object onto a 2D (plus surface texture) image? Sorta kinda. It’s really interesting to watch some of the painting lesson videos on YouTube; you get to see how that can be done.

    But what happens if you apply other rules? Picasso was well trained and could really draw, was a very good representational artist.

    I think that the kind of thing Andrew R mentioned is part of it. Or maybe Picasso was doing the kind of thing you can now do with a computer: assigning a different color to each part of the image that has a given light intensity, or something like that. The sort of thing that gets done to enhance MRI.

    Or maybe he was trying to do a visual representation of what jazz musicians were doing. He certainly was a jazz era artist. If you say that representational portraiture is a melody, then maybe what Picasso was doing was the sort of thing visually that taken to extremes became what bebop did with melody.

    He wasn’t a talentless charlatan. On the other hand, maybe he was a talented one…

  7. I will start off by saying: “Free citizens are allowed to have different tastes than mine.”

    However Kim, I will also state that in this case, I agree with you 100%.

    That “Bouquet of Peace” that ScottS linked to looks like something an average-talent 5th grader might do. (I’ve got stuff better than that hanging on my refrigerator that my grand kids have done.) It’s only value that I see is that it is a Picasso and therefore worth a lot more money. (…to someone, not me. I would sell it and give the money to my grand kids.)

    With private art, like most anyone, I like what I like and dislike what I dislike. I can take it or leave it. My choice. However, when it comes to public art, I am indirectly made to pay for it. And I have noticed that public art in recent years has taken a definite turn for the worse to “modern” junk. Sometimes literally. I’ve lost count of the number of modern sculptures I’ve seen in the courtyards and entryways of public buildings, schools, and hospitals that look like they are scrap from the local junkyard.

  8. The true masters insist that, to be an artist, one must be capable of reliably and accurately reproducing an image, a scene. Ol’ Mike insisted on draughtsmanship. That Picasso could and chose not to in order to be accepted by the arts and croissants crowd of his day makes him a whore in my estimation.

    M

  9. In my travels I have been to see a couple of Picasso exhibitions and the Museu Picasso in Barcelona.

    Blargh, except for one of his early works my wife pointed out to me. It was a perfectly realistic portrait of a young woman. Very beautiful. The man was clearly a great technician. Check out what pops up when you Google “picasso’s early work”. Quite fantastic.

    I suspect, and hope, that he was a clever fellow who decided he could make a huge amount of money and have his chicks for free by going weird. I must be a bit bent because I always cheer for the con-man. It is simply immoral to let a sucker keep his money.

  10. Any thoughts on Picasso’s fellow Spaniard, and, I think, one of the greatest architects of all time, Antoni GaudĂ­?

    I spent a lot of time in Barcelona inside his works, or staring at them, taking photos or just sitting in coffee shops enjoying the weird.

    I’m a fallen away Roman Catholic, but the devotion apparent in his ‘Sagrada Familia’ cathedral were almost enough to get me back. What a place, probably the most astonishing building in the world. https://www.archdaily.com/438992/ad-classics-la-sagrada-familia-antoni-gaudi

  11. As an artist of sort (never tried to make a living or go to school for it because I like to eat, but I do apply the concepts in my engineering life) – I am going to go against the trend in that I rather like Picasso. He is not my favorite, but he is good. Some of his pieces I like a lot and some others I at least appreciate even if they are not my cup of tea.

    One thing that I think those who do not do art miss about those who do art. If you are doing it all the time, and looking at it all the time, and thinking about it all the time, you get bored with lots of stuff. This drives a fair amount of the drive to “do something different” and actually makes perfect sense. If there is no drive to do something different, to create at an absolute level, then what you have is not art, it is craftsmanship. That is fine, but it is not art. So, if you consider that anyone driven to be “great” is going to drive you into something different because there is really no way to be great without doing that. Chances are that you will fail, because the vast majority of all artists fail at becoming great, but without attempting to do something truly creative, you have failed before you start.

    Of course there is all the political crap, that is always there and always has been. The question is does the work stand alone if one does not know the political (or other) statement that goes with it. Most modern art fails this. Most representational art fails this. Most art fails this. All post-modern art fails this because the entire premise there is that only the political part matters.

  12. Sans “Guernica”, would anyone in the “Art World” care what he painted post 1930?

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