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Pablo Picasso, and Analytical and Synthetic Cubism

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An art style unlike any other. An art style that went on to influence others for generations to come. It was the pathway to century defining art movements, such as: surrealism, abstract expressionism and pop art. It also paved the way for similar movements in both music and literature. The innovative movement aimed to establish a new order in the world of painting and sculpting, one that was completely different from any style or technique which had existed up to that point. Cubism was perhaps the most influential art movements of the 20th century as it led to the exploration of more abstract concepts and philosophies; abstractism was a key part in 20th century art. Despite being so influential, cubism was influenced by the art movements of old and the need to move forward.

Cubism didn’t just appear out of thin air, there was a reason for why it came to be. A reason for why Picasso and Braque strived to find something fresh. They felt the need to expand their perspective, to extend the possibilities of art in much the same way how the rise of new technologies were extending the possibilities of society. The world was radically changing, the pace of life and the way society perceived the nature of time, all of it was changing. Society was now in a constant state of change with new discoveries in science, advances in technology and mobility. The horizons of society grew ever larger. The dilemma facing the modern artist was simple; how to depict the dynamic lifestyle of the contemporary world. Specifically for the painters, the problem of how to capture more than just the fleeting moment, but how to capture the current. This lead to Picasso rejecting the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening.

Pablo Picasso’s first cubist painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon had broken all of the traditional rules that artists had followed, especially the one that defined art as imitation rather than creation. Picasso had ditched any concepts of perspective and proportion, concepts that had been religiously practiced since the Renaissance. What Picasso did instead was depict the objects as a combination of many different views to create the illusion of painting from multiple perspectives at the same time. With his revolutionary idea, Picasso created a new concept for artists to come: the freedom to create rather than imitate.Picasso believed that perspective was an obstacle to progress. The fact that drawing from only viewpoint would limit the options. As the painting was done from a fixed viewpoint, the result was frozen, captured in time. Photography could achieve the same effect, in less time and less cost. The values of traditional painting were being challenged by the new emerging technology. Picasso believed that painting also had to evolve, it had to move beyond the constraints of perspective and proportions. Art had to extend beyond being the realistic portrayal of objects. What he wanted to show was the process of seeing, and to do so, he composed a mixture of several different simultaneous views of the objects to be viewed in one single moment. This is a key characteristic of cubism art: the attempt to show all six sides of a cube at the same time.

Picasso was also largely influenced by tribal African art. He believed that the traditions of Western art had exhausted their use and that by now they were overrated. To enliven his work, he not only abandoned all concepts of perspective and proportion, he also drew on the expressive energy of art from other cultures, specifically African art. He was much less interested in the spiritual or social symbolism of African art rather than the exaggerated abstraction of the human figure. This resulted in foreign, angular shapes and a vivid colour palette. Picasso thought of these as the kick that was needed to reinvigorate Western art. This inspiration to cross-reference art from different cultures probably came from Paul Gauguin, the French post-impressionist artist, whose paintings and prints were influenced by the native culture of Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands where he spent his final years. As the world around changed, so did cubism. The cubism movement went through multiple phases of growth and change throughout its initial lifespan.

The first of these phases, which is considered to have run through 1908-1912, is Analytical Cubism. As the name implies he paintings associated with the Analytical Cubism phase show evidence of a method of analysis through which the cubists used to break down the structure of the objects to show multiple viewpoints, resulting in a fragmented image of multiple intersecting and overlapping viewpoints. Girl with a Mandolin, painted by Picasso in 1910, is truly representative of the characteristics of Analytical Cubism.

The second and final phase of cubism is Synthetic Cubism: While in the analytical phase the cubists were deconstructing and then reassembling bits and pieces to suggest objects as seen from multiple angles, in the synthetic phase they abandoned any idea of viewpoints or dimensions. It was no longer about the representation of space on multiple planes, it was now about superimposing fragments and shapes to create the illusion of a bustling city, with things happening in every direction. Compared to the analytical phase, this phase featured a much wider use of bright, bold colours. Lively reds, greens, blues, and yellows gave an allusion to the high tempo of urban life. The emphasis was now on the sense of diverse simultaneous experiences: people, machines, noises, light, smells. Picasso’s papier collés are a good example of synthetic cubism.

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