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Juliana Rosentsveyg


By: Juliana Rosentsveyg
College Now Course - HUM 1

Cubism was an avant-garde movement that revolutionized European painting, sculpture, and, eventually, ways of life. It originated in 1906 by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in a small town in Montmartre, France. Picasso and Braque were influenced by primitive African tribal art and the work of Paul Cezanne, who was considered by many historians as the "father of abstract art." Through Picasso's pieces, Les 'Demoiselles d'Avignon and The Guitar, Pablo Picasso ushered in a new era of modem art.

In understanding the origins of Cubism, one must first take into account the historical background of the time period. The early 20th century brought about mass production, huge skyscrapers like the Eiffel Tower, weapons and bombs, and automobiles. There was Einstein's theory of relativity, global imperialism, and the growing fear of a World War. The implications of these new advances were beyond belief. The idea that the world existed on microscopic and macroscopic levels was unlike Newton's strict, uniform laws. If Newton and Galileo were wrong, then religion and government might be wrong also. Cubism expressed this new feeling of uncertainty and doubt in its work. Cubists questioned their lives and expressed this failure to understand life's meaning in their art. One must understand that, for many, not knowing that there is a heaven waiting for them and that leaders aren't always working in the best interest of the people was terribly frightening. The disillusionment and multiplicity of life showed itself in Cubism.

By creating Cubism, Picasso and Braque tried to show multiplicity and relativity of life through art. As the world approached the modem age, people rapidly advanced and technology flourished. These progressions held revolutionary changes for society changes that many people did not know how to deal with. Cubism tried to deal with this vast onset of changes by representing the fact that our knowledge of an object is made up of all possible views and angles of it. It gave birth to broken up, analyzed, and reassembled abstract art by rendering objects from multiple angles simultaneously in an attempt to present the object in its most complete matter. Cubists took their subjects and made them look like they've exploded and reassembled arbitrarily in bits and pieces. There was a new fourth dimension of time and multiplicity of viewpoints that goes back to Einstein's relative theory of time, space, and motion. There is never just one way of seeing things.

Pablo Picasso's Les 'Demoiselles d'Avignon, although not considered exactly a Cubist painting in itself, is essential to the development and understanding of the Cubist movement. In this work, Picasso first experiments with seeing the same subject from various perspectives. Les 'Demoiselles is a large painting of five nude women prostitutes in a curtained bordello. An assault on the respectable and traditional Renaissance female nude, Picasso's painting completely transforms the women. He took apart and reassembled the painting into disjunctive and discontinued segments. For example, the far right woman's back is facing the viewer, but so is her head. The two central females have profile noses but frontal eyes. Their breasts and hips are sharp and angular, not voluptuous or beautiful. One could also see that two of the women are wearing African masks and a copy of Cezanne's famous fruit bowl is seen in the art. These things reflect Picasso's inspirations in the creation of Cubism.

Furthermore, the background space is equally disjunctive and fragmented. Brutally fractured planes of red and blue color resemble shards of icy glass and play with the new idea that empty space is not void (relating to Einstein's relative theory.) With Les'Demoiselles, Picasso created a fourth dimension of time itself, where the images are created as if they were moving above, around, below, and even within the viewer. One could look at it from any angle and get a different perspective of it. Also, there is a lot of positive and negative space, but there is only one plane; a two-dimensional piece made three-dimensional through the use of shadow, color, and form.

Picasso created Les 'Demoiselles to give viewers a completely new way of looking at something. There is now question about it- Les 'Demoiselles is a very disturbing piece of art work. The women themselves look headstrong and confident. They hold a straight, proud posture and, no matter from what angle one looks at, always seem to look straight into the eyes of the viewer. Their gazes are interrogated and overpowering. "Come to me, if you dare," they threaten. One is forced to look with both admiration and disgust at the subjects who have all the pieces of sexually attractive women, but who are anything but beautiful and desirable. The sharpness of it all makes everything, even the "delicious "fruit" and the curtains, look like a weapon. It was this distortion of space and subject that brought about the birth of Cubism. Instead of the traditional view of women as attractively pleasing of beautiful, Picasso paints a holy fear and horrific ugliness of women. This intense painting wrenches out what people held dear to them-respectability, tradition, desire-and turned it all upside-down.

As analytical Cubism (the process of fragmenting and abstracting artwork to give it a relative multiple perspective) progressed, Picasso and Braque realized that this style, as Hughes (32) put it "shed[s] all clues to the real world." To make up for that, the Cubists gradually made up synthetic Cubism. Although still using all of the principles of Cubism, they now started making collages and assemblages. These new pieces further enhanced the idea of presentation, instead of representation, and the fourth dimension (time.) The new pieces brought the real world to the viewer by actually using pieces from the earth. They used mass produces newsprint, department store wallpaper, and product packaging to create art. What better way to show the advancement of industrial society than by putting society into the art?

One of the most popular assemblage pieces of the Cubist movement is The Guitar by Pablo Picasso, made from 1912 to 1913. Picasso used fragmented planes and abstract distribution to create a brown guitar. Aspects of Cubism are visible through the guitar's sharp angles and not entirely realistic distribution. The use of empty and positive and negative space is also seen. The entire piece is three-dimensional, creating its own shadow and form. The projecting sound hole is void and the strings are at a distance from the base.

Furthermore, Picasso used common mass-produced materials like sheet metal and wire to create The Guitar. For the first time ever, sculpture was not just a solid mass made out of clay or stone, but rather an open construction of planes. The Guitar is abstracted, fragmented, and has no exact way of being looked at. Nonetheless, Picasso gave his piece an ironic twist to it. Could materials (like metal) that make destructive weapons, huge buildings, and machinery also create simple and beautiful musical instruments?

Picasso once said, "I paint forms as I think them, not as I see them" He and Braque opened up that idea of relativeness of seeing to the public. Although Les'Demoiselle and The Guitar confused, and even angered or disgusted, many people, the art work helped liberate society from the strict, traditional way of doing things. It opened them up to face the fast-paced, changing world. Cubist art made people stop and think. It promoted feeling, analysis, and interaction from the viewers and, while Cubism movement itself was not widespread or long, it began a huge, creative explosion which appeared throughout all of 20th century art. Cubism also directly influenced Futurism, Constructivism, Expressionism, and even Fauvism. It was a pioneering avant-garde way of turning one's back to the tradition that failed and opening one's mind to the new, daring, and unpredictable world. Cubism sought to evoke a concentrated emotional feeling. The art isn't trying to just reprint an image onto a canvas, like a traditional painting would. Instead, it is trying to capture a feeling that comes out of it. One might not even be able to understand what the art actually shows without reading the title first, but that is not what mattered. Cubists wanted their viewers to become part of the artwork-to have to stop and look at what was there from every angle and question it. Doubt was a necessity, questioning the art was part of the art itself. The work evoked emotion from within that viewer, and for each person there is another feeling. They could interact and question it, walk away from repulsion, or stand in front of it for hours in admiration. Everybody could be a critic.

Cubism helped stir the modernist revolt against convention and tradition. All of the known beliefs that everybody believed was factual, like Newtonian physics and religion, were now discovered to be (possible) erroneous. Cubism was a way to deal with and break with the tradition that failed them. It didn't want to make sense of the world that suddenly became so mysterious and foreign, but rather allow one to question everything. Don't go through life blindly-walk around with uncertainty. Cubism worked on that freedom of choice, the newness of exploration, and the fear of an uncertain future through art.