Cubism: artistic cop-out or innovative expression?
|June 13, 2012||Posted by Alaa Jasim under culture|
We all know the name Picasso. He’s considered revolutionary among artists, perhaps even iconic. Personally, I think Picasso is brilliant. He completely changed the way we look at colour, at expression and the way we use media to create art. Picasso is known best for his crazy cubist creations, but where did cubism come from? What is it? Why did it come about?
People often see a lack of skill when they look at Picasso’s work, just a series of lines - let’s have a look at that Singer-Sargeant painting over there sort of mess - but the move toward cubism, toward this weird conglomeration of lines was incredibly careful and purposeful. One of the most iconic paintings of all time, Guernica, is cubist and it is its cubist nature that gives it such a massive impact. It’s a hideous image, and the sharp angles, harsh lines and contorted faces provide it with the horror it portrays. There’s something about cubism, even though I hated attempting to replicate the style, that’s oddly fulfilling. But is cubism a bit crap? Or is it brilliant?
An art movement created by Picasso himself alongside Georges Braque, cubism has been described as one of the most influential art movements of the century. Influential or not, the movement incited good reactions and bad reactions: cubism was controversial. It was a movement of abstraction, of not focusing on the natural, which art up until that point had done. Rather than focusing on perspectives or foreshortening, making images look real, the cubists focused on making the two-dimensional nature of the canvas more evident. They took images, chopped them up, added unnatural and wrong angles, fractured them, and painted them into shallow spaces, almost as though they were in relief.
Taken from the neo-impressionistic style of Paul Cézanne, the movement certainly entered the art world with a bang. Cézanne’s style was revolutionary in itself. He skewed perspective and created in his paintings a unison of colour that the art world hadn’t really seen before. By using some background colours in the foreground and vice versa his paintings became fluent, and in spite of their unnatural air they were exceedingly effective and displayed much more character than some of the few rather soulless pieces of 16th-century art. What Braque and Picasso did was take Cézanne’s unification of colour and distortion of perspective about three steps further.
Compositionally, I think cubism changed a lot. The main focus doesn’t have to be in the centre of the painting, because the image is shattered. Cubist pieces are a bit mad to look at, but the point is that you look at them and see the focus from everywhere at once. You see images from a variety of different perspectives at the same time. I think that there’s something oddly engaging and beautiful about that.
As an art movement, which itself inspired the iconic Art Deco design movement, it seems like a fairly obvious assumption to say this was an important period in terms of art. It may not have been appreciated, but cubism changed the way that people look at things. It changed product design, even architecture, and gave everything something of a new dynamic. Cubism still influences many artists, though perhaps not in such an outright way. So why on earth would we call it a cop-out? Well…
Some would argue that cubism shows a lack of skill. All they’re doing is painting funny shapes onto a canvas – anyone can do that, right? In fairness, this is partly accurate. They are painting funny shapes on a canvas. Sometimes the subjects of the pieces are barely distinguishable, and many people believe that art is there for beauty, for something pretty to look at. Surely, if it doesn’t fulfil its function then it’s a cop-out?
Cubism is not an easy form of art to connect with. You might say that the jagged edges of the images reflect the feelings of the artist behind it, but maybe it also expresses a desire to view things from many angles. After all, a story is different depending on which way you look at it. This is what makes cubism expressive. I personally used to hate studying it, imitating it, looking at it, writing about it (wait, what? Look what happened there). But really, I don’t think cubism is a cop-out at all.
For me, cubism is inspiring. I don’t like looking at German expressionist pieces because I don’t think that particular form of expression conveys clearly. Cubism has a high impact, even if it is hard to relate to. An art movement that, deny it or not, changed the world can’t be called a cop-out. The cubists didn’t just change our views of art forever, they also revolutionised the design industry and inspired architects around the world. I don’t think that’s a cop-out. To me that’s innovative expression, and maybe even iconic.
Thank you to Charlotte Brace for both inspiring and naming this piece.
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