Everyone wants to understand art. Why dont we try to understand the song of a bird? Why do we love the night, the flowers, everything around us, without trying to understand them? But in the case of a painting, people think they have to understand. If only they would realize above all that an artist works of necessity ...
Had this column appeared Monday (Oct. 25), it would have coincided with the 1881 birth of a legend in the world of art who spoke those words. Most refer to him by his surname, but his full moniker reads like a page from the Spanish telephone book: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso!
I have been asked who my favorite artist is, which for me is impossible to answer because there are so many. But when asked who I believe is the greatest artist, I answer without hesitation, Picasso! Why? Because he produced an unequaled number of works, in almost every medium, in an array of styles, many of which he created, and he did so brilliantly. As a youngster, Picasso was as exceptional as the young Mozart, so much so that his art teacher father gave up painting because his son was so much better.
The body of work Picasso produced in his lifetime (he died in 1973) includes thousands of paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures and ceramics, and comprised many overlapping periods or styles. The first was his Blue Period in which he painted in blue tones to evoke the melancholy world of the poor, and he followed it with his Rose Period, in which he often depicted circus scenes.
After those phases, he started exploring sculpture. In 1907, he created the revolutionary Les Demoiselles dAvignon in which he portrayed the human form in fragmented and distorted shapes and thus turned European art upside down, so to speak. That innovative work clearly demonstrates the influence on Picasso of African masks as well as artist Paul Cézanne; Les Demoiselles also is seen as a precursor to the Cubist movement, which Picasso founded along with Georges Braque. Picasso also experimented with collage, created set designs for the Ballet Russe, produced assemblages from found objects and continued to use all he learned along the way.
For me, Picassos singular work among all his masterpieces is arguably the greatest painting of the 20th century Guernica! To memorialize the destruction by the German Luftwaffe of a tiny village in Spain, Picasso created an enormous painting in black and white and shades of gray as a centerpiece for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Parisian World Fair. As an artistic political statement, it has no equal; as an emblematic portrayal of the horrors of war, it is sheer gut-wrenching genius.
Those who are familiar with the man may not approve of his chauvinism or apparent hedonistic lifestyle or his outward arrogance, but there is no denying his impact on the world of art.
Stew Mosberg is a freelance writer and has written about art regionally and nationally. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org