“What did Joyce, Stravinsky, and Picasso have in common?

“They had nothing to tell us—or, rather, they didn’t want to tell us anything about themselves and their relation with reality; and, on the other hand, they had a lot to say about art and its relation with art. They were indifferent to the world, to which they denied any participation that wasn’t through art….they substituted the world for a museum and they took charge of its enormous inventory with the aim of appropriation and pillage.

“With the First World War and the consequent destruction of values, all art of the past…was instantly converted into museum. And with museum appears the idea of a relativity of styles, the plurality of forms, and the vanity of expression—ultimately, the idea of consumption understood as the transformation of creation into a product….By treating the art of the past as a mere repertory of manneristic stylizations they made massive sale possible.

“Thieves of forms, they killed the life of those forms, reducing them to patterns. They closed probably forever the era of artists who had something to tell us. With them begins the great Atlantic-type Alexandrian mannerism based on the consumer societies of Western Europe and the United States; the cemetery-museum-show-market-fair-exhibition-emporium of art definitively condemned to being forever contemporary and vanguard.”

From “The Explosion of Mannerism” –an essay by Alberto Moravia

Moravia is very hard on those three artists. And he is too pessimistic. No one believes artists will go on studying art’s own navel forever. And to tell the truth, not even Picasso did that. His best-loved works all have a sentimental or autobiographical touch to them.

And what about the origin of art’s strange sea-change? It was traditional in Moravia’s time to blame the horrible First World War for a “loss of values”. Afterwards came “the Lost Generation”. But even before the turn of the century Picasso was cooking up his idea of art along with the gang at the Four Cats Café in Barcelona . And he was famous in Europe before the Great War. Look what a critic said about a Picasso exhibition in Paris in 1902:

“Picasso is like a young god bent on remaking the world. But a sullen god: the hundreds of faces that he has painted gesticulate but not one of them smiles. His is an uninhabitable world, his very painting is sick….Isn’t this lad, so troublingly precocious, destined to make a masterpiece of the negative sense of life, of the evil that he himself suffers from, like the rest of us?”

Charles Morice, Exposition…en “Mercure de France”; Paris, December, 1902



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8 Responses to Picasso

  1. iondanu – I am a visual artist of Romanian origin (a draughtsman, painter, photographer and digital artist) living now in Canada.
    ion danu says:

    I think, like yourself swallows, that Moravia (a very interesting writer in himself, with a major contribution to XX century literature and cinema) is not only harsh but quite unfair to Picasso (I don’t know really about Joyce and Stravinsky… I know only superficial things about or of them…) Personally, I have a love-hate relation with Picasso (he was an asshole as a man; but what an eye! what a hand! and how daring a mind…) but I don’t think we can denny him his genius – maybe a negative genius but a genius… a painter marvelously gifted, a very acute and perceiptive art critic,…) As for his “interpretations” and mocking of Velasquez etc. he’s not the only one… vincent also did A LOT of interpretations – true, he was more in an adoration mode – of Delacroix, Dore, Daumier, Millet… It doesnt mean stealing or thievieng… I don’t see why an artist cannot “comment” by the intermede of an interpretation… I did myself a Velasquez interpretation (well, keeping all proportions…)

  2. iondanu – I am a visual artist of Romanian origin (a draughtsman, painter, photographer and digital artist) living now in Canada.
    ion danu says:

    I think you have a bug, swallows! a miscevious bug which substitutes my dignified avatoar but a little devil with a yellow – is it dick or tongue?

  3. erikatakacs – Canada – I am a figurative sculptor working in paper pulp.
    erikatakacs says:

    Interesting thoughts by Moravia, many of them could be applied word for word to today’s mainstream art world (or rather market). Had similar thoughts the other day in regards to a widely celebrated sculptor who became famous by making balloon dogs, hanging hearts, flower puppies and other kitschy stuff. More and more art is becoming a product.

  4. wrjones
    wrjones says:

    I don’t think Picasso was a genius of any sort except maybe marketing. I heard a man on TV saying Picasso could paint representational art if he chose. But what little of his early work in representation form I’ve seen was mediocre at best. He certainly was not going to get famous painting that way.

    Are his works masterpieces? What is the definition of a masterpiece? For me, if a painting is great, it is great no matter who painted it. I would like to see an experiment centered around Picasso’s work.

    1. Take one of Picasso’s paintings and change the signature to “Sever Tisthammer”, a Wisconsin dairy farmer. Do you think you would hear, “Oh, isn’t this a great painting. He is a genius.”?

    2. Take a scribble by a 5 year old and have Picasso sign and claim it.

    His work sucks to put it bluntly.

    Now, I’m not against abstract art. There is no reason a painting has to be about something. It can be about paint, color, form, etc. Some of it is beautiful, has wide emotional appeal, and although it may look simple, can indeed be very difficult to create, requiring unique individual skills. I have yet to see a work of Picasso that had any appeal beyound the fact that the creator had somehow fallen into celebrityhood.

  5. 100swallows says:

    Sorry, Danu. You came in under a different e-mail address. The diordache sends along your dignity but posts from the other address come in without any avatar and ask the little devil to represent them. I guess that’s a tongue. I’ll go back to pink and blue snowflakes or doilies if you wish.

  6. rich says:

    Tough subject this time, Swallows!
    Guess the lady depicted here isn’t my all time Picasso fav painting; interesting to look at, though – probably one of those he did within half an hour, prolific and protean as he was.
    Guernica I find most impressing.
    There might be a truth in Moravia’s statements about mannerism, but I find them pretty exaggerated. And just to throw them Joyce, Picasso and Stravinsky into one and the same basket also to me seems questionable.

    We just live in the 20th Century. The ancients were not confronted with photography, weren’t they? No one was talking to them about any 4th Dimension (or 5th or 6th) – so the modernist challenge was hardly on them.
    So why shouldn’t the concept of a 4th Dimension enter into the overall view of artists?
    The resulting confusion is another matter, and of course the commercialization. Now we’re in the Digital Age and “Digital Art”…which makes things still more intricate and complicated…

    Don’t know well about Picasso’s views on the “Immortals”…
    but I have read about Cezanne, “Father of Cubism”, being in awe and admiring Rubens at the Louvre, and Delacroix…
    However… Chapeau! or hats off for this blog, Swallows!

  7. iondanu – I am a visual artist of Romanian origin (a draughtsman, painter, photographer and digital artist) living now in Canada.
    iondanu says:

    Doesn’t matter, swallows…little devil or showflacks or whatever… tongue or other things… not important…

    As I said it already, I’m not a Picasso undistinct lover… but the man had talent, Bill, really… I’ve seen some sketchbooks of his and he really had it, truly! Not everyone can draw like he did and that’s a pretty rare talent… some of his blue or rose compositions are, also, quite impressives… He had stamina.

    He also had the marketing genius, just like the other Spaniard, Dali…

  8. 100swallows says:

    Rich: Good points. I disliked so much Moravia’s lumping together those three artists that I tried for awhile to take out the sentence but then gave up.
    I remember discovering nice things in the Guernika years ago when I saw it the first time; but since then it has become such a political flag here and is used everywhere in advertizement and decoration, and I just can’t look anymore.

    Everything has changed for painting in the last hundred and twenty years or so. The Fourth Dimension, photography, digital images—those, besides the loss of common values, had to make a difference. Images have all become too cheap, too common. Color too. Those used to be a joy in themselves, so rare were they. All day every day they bombard you. No single one can become very important. Nobody has time to take them all in, let alone give them much thought. All depends on the first split-second effect. And reflection is pointless because of relativism. Which is “better” anyway? One has as much right to exist as another. It’s easy to justify, using one or the other aesthetic directive or objective, any image displayed in any way.

    Picasso admired the Old Masters. Remember his take-offs on Velazquez’s Meninas, done late in his life. And as a boy he made many copies in the Prado and the Louvre. He wasn’t at all insensitive to great art or any kind of delicacy. And his ideal was still beauty. He must have been the last artist in that old sense (well, Erni is still alive!).

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