When I stop and take in the artwork of artists who have achieved the illustrious rank of “Master” within academic, literary, and societal circles, I study what qualifying attributes earned them this title. Was it their schooling? A new movement? Social popularity? Or was it the sheer skill evident in their works of art? These, after all, are the things I always look for when studying the masters. Then again, it is very easy to dismiss artists like Picasso or Monet if you don’t like or relate to their style of artwork, and for the common viewer the first basis for judgment is usually society’s reverence for select pieces. However, they often have other works of art that perhaps exceed their more well-known and highly publicized masterpieces, and these bodies of work further demonstrate why these artists are labeled masters.
The master I am exploring with you today is the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1891-1973). He is well known and generally classed by the public as an abstract artist, but Picasso’s work encompasses a large spectrum of movements and genres. While many notable artists throughout history have attained recognition through a select body of career works, Picasso’s artistic opus consists of over 35,000 works of art whose contents reflect over 40 different periods—making him the most prolific and diverse artist of all time.
His most renowned achievements are the Rose Period, the Blue Period, and, between 1907 and 1912, the style classified as Cubism. This is a painting style that incorporates multiple views of objects to simulate their three-dimensionality while acknowledging the two-dimensional surface of the picture plane. Signaling the beginning of abstract art, Cubism is a semi-abstract style that continued a trend away from representational art (Cezanne, 1800).
Picasso’s style evolved from detailed sketches in his early teens, for instance, “Study of a Torso” 1895 (see image 1), to abstract expressionism that eventually turned into cubism. Cubism was his main choice of expression, yet Picasso managed to incorporate numerous styles throughout the evolution of his career—with each dominant style revealing symbolism and hints of his former styles, as well as progression into the next. His more popular piece “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” 1907 (see image 2), painted in a modern style, calls to mind ancient Egyptian and African art in its visual representation, yet his uniquely crafted shapes, objects, and figures on one plane use all classic poses, further marking the revolutionary period of modern art.This painting is very much styled in Fauvism, the lead in to Expressionism, and a storming into Futurism. Moreover, this painting ignited the spark for the Cubist Movement.
Picasso’s use of colors in all of his works is very descriptive of the state of mind he was in when painting them. “La Vie (Life)” 1903 (see image 3) was painted in the studio he shared with Carlos Casagemas, who eventually committed suicide. Picasso used yellow, black, green, and blue hues to illustrate the mood of sadness. The figures holding each other–a mother and child and the embracing lovers–express the desire for comfort and closeness, and the lady in the middle holding nothing at all and no one to hold but herself—despair. All of these elements convey the deep sadness Picasso felt after the loss of his friend.
Much can be said about the types of movements and works of art created throughout Picasso’s 91 years of life, but the first image that gave me, as an artist myself, insight into to his later works and contributions as an artist was Image 1.
Here was this artist whose name was most popularly referenced when complimenting adept artists (“You’re a real Picasso”), a name that, after looking up, you didn’t find all that impressive unless you were a fan of abstract art, especially when comparing his work to that of the more realistic and traditional masters like Da Vinci or Copley. Therefore, when I came across Picasso’s earlier works, specifically this pencil drawing sketched at age 14, it blew my mind. A new found respect was born for him and his skills as an artist, not only had he invented new styles of art but possessed the understanding and skill to create accurate and realistic representation of any object or figure. So, the lesson I learned was always to take a deeper look when you are studying artists and their art.