I’ve been asked and given permission to publish this week a series of chapters from the new A Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings on Art, Science, and Life
Picasso: Art as Entertainment
By Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington
One of the most recognized painters in twentieth-century art, Pablo Picasso
(1881 – 1973), is best known as the cofounder of Cubism, along with Georges
Braque. By disassembling parts of a figure and reassembling them from multiple
perspectives, he showed the fragmentation of modern life as well as the
artist’s radical autonomy from traditional ideas about form. His painting is
heralded as the beginning of modern art. Inadvertently, Picasso rendered
onto canvas the biblical theme of sin’s power to shatter and disfigure in ways
never before explored
Picasso is probably the most prolific artist on record, having produced
over ten thousand paintings and one hundred thousand prints. What may
be less familiar is the question that arises from the whole of Picasso’s life: Is
“art” about paint on a canvas or the living of life?
As a young man, Picasso spent most of his time in Barcelona and Paris,
where he featured his lovers in his Rose period and Cubist paintings. His
growing wealth and fame gave him entry into affluent society. In 1918, he
married ballerina Olga Khokhlova. However, conflict ensued over his bohemian
tendencies and numerous affairs, including one with a seventeen-yearold
by whom he fathered a daughter.
Politically, Picasso remained neutral during the Spanish Civil War, and
during World Wars I and II he refused to fight. Braque and others suspected
him of cowardice more than pacifism. But a sense of his revulsion at war’s
suffering and brutality assaults the viewer in perhaps his greatest work,
“Guernica.” After the liberation of Paris in 1944, Picasso began an affair with
a young art student, Fran?oise Gilot. They had two children, but Gilot left
Picasso after nine years, accusing him not only of infidelity but also of physical
abuse. He soon married Jacqueline Roque. In painting his new wife (and
Olga and his young children) Picasso reverted to a more representational and
sensitive portrayal. Perhaps love could not bear to dismember and disfigure
Picasso, in his seventies, began to sense that he was no longer attractive,
but rather grotesque, to women. In this realization, and perhaps in a season of
soul-searching, he shared with the world at least one humble confession:
In art the mass of the people no longer seek consolation and exaltation, but
those who are refined, rich, unoccupied . . . seek what is new, strange, original,
I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics
with all the changing oddities which have passed through my head, and the
less they understood me, the more they admired me.
By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles,
rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly. And fame
for a painter means sales, gains, fortunes, riches. And today, as you know, I
am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage
to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term.
Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt were great painters. I am only a public entertainer
who has understood his times and exploited them as best he could. . . .
Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the
merit of being sincere.4
Usually an artist’s recognizable style expresses his core identity. But
Picasso took no sides in wars, kept no faith with the women he loved, and
continually changed styles, colors, and perspectives. The artist who tried to
paint every possibility, even mutually exclusive ones, ultimately didn’t stand
behind any of them, even his own style.
For reflection and discussion
Imagine the internal confusion of a person with gifts, lusts, wealth, and fame,
but without a true north to guide him. Integrity would be unlikely. Dis-integrity,
and ultimate disintegration, would be the natural course.
? How do you respond to Picasso’s constantly changing style?
? What kind of legacy does the world seem to think he has left? Does that
seem at variance with his own frank assessment?
? Where are you inclined to follow your desires rather than God’s calling
to a kingdom kind of life of integration and commitment?
? If God is the Artist and your life the canvas, what kind of painting is God
making of you? How do you want to respond to him about that?