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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:48

Pablo Picasso and the new language of Cubism

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Pompidou Center in Paris looking at a painting by Pablo Picasso called the guitarist from 1910 this is what is often referred to as analytic cubism analytic in the idea of taking something apart analyzing the parts of something and you can see that those look like a jigsaw puzzle where the forms have been disassembled it's an abstraction the further we stand back from the painting the more I can see the forms of a man a head shoulders elbows the fingerboard of the guitar the rounded forms of the outside of the guitar but I don't think that Picasso meant this to be a puzzle that were supposed to put back together although Picasso was best known for abstracted paintings such as this it's important to remember that Picasso was something of a child prodigy he could draw in the academic style beautifully for the previous four or five hundred years Western art had been preoccupied with naturalism with representing the natural world as carefully and exactly as possible representing the world as it appears to our eyes an artist developed a toolkit to do this this included linear perspective using light and shadow to create the illusion of three-dimensional form the problem the Picasso faced is that the modern world was one that felt ruptured old systems no longer felt valid the early 20th century is a time of tremendous upheaval there is a sense that vision itself is unreliable Picasso was grappling specifically with the issue that painting was a kind of illusion a representation of three-dimensional form and space on a two-dimensional surface a system of representation so could Picasso invent a new language for representation but one that was not hiding the two dimensionality of the canvas but rather putting that in the forefront so let's look closely at this painting and see if we can understand how Picasso has done this here Picasso has simplified the human form we see diagonals horizontals vertical lines in black we see circles that intersect but it's so abstracted that if we oriented it as if it were a landscape we might expect to see the rooftops of a village instead of a man holding a guitar the fundamentals of perspective that govern western painting for so long supposed a single viewer fixed in front of a work of art and showed us that view and Cezanne in the late 19th century had developed those ideas Suzanne said instead of standing in one place looking from one point in space and time I actually move around the thing that I'm painting even if you don't move around it what if you slightly turn your head to the right or to the left the reality is that one of you is constantly changing and shifting and Picasso takes that idea and runs with it what would happen if you represented this man holding a guitar over time from multiple perspectives it's a different kind of truth and the truth that western painting had given us for 500 years so this is not less true it's just differently true Picasso is also empty the painting of much of its color and much of its content we don't see hands we don't see a face we don't see emotion the things that generally draws into a painting of a person what Picasso was interested in instead is the structural logic of the language that he's inventing and he's inventing it not by himself but with his compatriot Georges Braque and we still do have some illusion of space there is a shallow relief here we have light and shade we have the movement between those pale tones and darker shadow so there is a suggestion of a form there this is not entirely flat but it certainly is reminding us of the flatness of the canvas that this is painted on and as you said he's reducing color so that we focus on line on form on mass on structure the colors are reduced to some Browns and whites and blacks and perhaps some pale greens so we have light and shade that suggests three-dimensional form and we have overlapping of shapes that also suggest depth but not deep space this is a shallow space maybe a few inches just enough for the fractured forms that are represented it's as if Picasso has taken a series of views of the human body and reconstructed them on the two-dimensional plane I find a tension between the title of the guitarist and the painting itself without the title as a prompt you'd be hard-pressed at locate the man or the guitar this is a painting that is about the way that painting itself works Picasso here is on the edge of abstraction but this is not pure abstraction it is not entirely divorced from the world that we see throughout his entire career Picasso remained interested in the tension between what we see and the way in which we depicted [Music]