PICASSO : Distortion and Ruthless attack on GOOD TASTE

Was it just new forms for old feelings? Are new feelings even possible? And were not these forms somehow recycled and repackaged from pre-Christian era civilizations? In any event, the innovations of modern art cannot be explained adequately on formal and technical grounds….

Cézanne would never have interested me a bit if he had lived and thought like Jacques Émile Blanche, even if the apple he painted had been ten times as beautiful. What forces our interest is Cézanne’s anxiety — that’s Cézanne’s lesson; the torments of van Gogh — that is the actual drama of the man. The rest is a sham. —Picasso

Such images are abundant in modern art — distortion and fragmentation are the clichés that dominate understanding of the modern figure — but the reasons why they have become epidemic are not examined in depth. We are told that the modern figural artist means to generate perceptual ambiguities and uncertainties, affording new sensations rather than telling old stories, even if the perplexing contradictions — visual antimonies, as it were — are composed into a kind of narrative. This formal, indeed, technical explanation of their illogic hardly does justice to the conspicuously “abnormal” character of the figure, which often seems disrupted to the point of absurdity, and sometimes seems on the verge of total disintegration. We have become accustomed to them, but from an everyday perspective they are strange indeed.

Beth Harris:By all accounts, Picasso’s intensely competitive nature literally forced him to out do his great rival. Les Demoiselles D’Avignon is the result of this effort. Let’s compare canvases: Matisse’s landscape is a broad open field with a deep recessionary vista. The figures are uncrowded. They describe flowing arabesques that in turn relate to the forms of nature that surround them. Here is languid sensuality set in the mythic past of Greece’s golden age. In very sharp contrast, Picasso, intent of making a name for himself (rather like the young Manet and David), has radically compressed the space of his canvas and replaced sensual eroticism with a kind of aggressively crude pornography (note, for example, the squatting figure at the lower right). His space is interior, closed, and almost claustrophobic. Like Matisse’s later Blue Nude (itself a response to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon), the women fill the entire space and seem trapped within it. No longer set in a classical past, Picasso’s image is clearly of our time. Here are five prostitutes from an actual brothel, located on a street named Avignon in the red-light district in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia in northern Spain—a street, by the way, which Picasso had frequented.

The figures that Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque painted at the height of Analytic Cubism (1910-11) seem completely disintegrated, and as such only nominally figures. Indeed, they have a mosaic quality, being a patchwork of tessera-like gestures, each an expressive end in itself. They look like fragments of a shattered whole, as though Picasso and Braque were archaeologists who had pieced together shards of some murky ancient figures they dug up from the depths within themselves, even if the peculiarly archetypal result seems incomplete, indeed, a kind of chaotic construction of fragments that does not quite add up to a harmonious figural whole, however memorable. The conventional art historical explanation of them as rendering the figure simultaneously in two and three dimensions — as both flat and rounded — misses the motive for this simultaneity.

“Indeed, it has been called the first truly 20th-century painting. Picasso’s painting was so avant-garde — so unpredictable, unprecedented — that it made the avant-garde art that preceded it seem quaint, indeed, obsolete. Paradoxically, Picasso was almost excommunicated from the avant-garde for painting it. Henri Matisse initially thought it was a hoax or joke, ridiculing modern art. No doubt he felt threatened by it. Georges Braque, who had just met Picasso, and who was soon to develop Cubism with him — Picasso remarked that they were tied together like two mountaineers or a married couple — said to him that he “wanted to make us eat tow or drink kerosene.” In other words, Les Demoiselles was in bad taste, even to those ready and eager to accept anything avant-garde.

Matisse. Bonheur de Vivre. Beth Harris:But do not be misled by his interest in myth—Matisse is not joining in with Bouguereau or any other Salon artist. This is the epitome of Fauvism, a radical new approach that incorporate purely expressive, bright, clear colors and wildly sensual forms. Matisse's painting s perhaps the first canvas to clearly understand Cézanne’s great formal challenge, and to actually further the elder master’s ideas. In fact, despite its languid poses, Bonheur de Vivre was regarded as the most radical painting of its day. Because of this, Matisse became known, briefly, as the most daring painter in Paris. So what was daring about this canvas? Here is one key issue: unlike the paintings by Cézanne, Ingres, or Titian, Matisse's work does not depict forms that recede in the background and diminish in scale. ...

And that is part of its point: the disavowal of what had hitherto been regarded as good taste, as though that is what art is ultimately about. The undermining, overthrowal and dismissal of the whole idea of tasteful art is central to its message. Its lack of taste — its contradiction and refusal of taste, as though to deny that the value of a work of art resides only in its tastefulness, that only the consensus of taste, which is a social measure, makes it significant — is what makes the Les Demoiselles revolutionary. In a sense, it is truly avant-garde because it refuses to be pleasing, because it disaffliates itself from the usual measure of artistic success — to give pleasure, or to represent pleasure in a pleasurable way, the way, for example, Matisse’s Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life) (1905-06) does. A somewhat more tempting, very different grouping of naked young women, it was painted only a short time before, but suddenly seemed passé, both in its attitude and forms. It was the anti-sociality — it was much deeper than a matter of being “tasteless” — of Les Demoiselles that Picasso’s colleagues intuitively recognized and found offensive. And that anti-sociality was rooted in the expression of painful feelings.( Kuspit )

"Until Pablo Picasso and other modernists turned racial bias in Western art on its head by embracing the expressive power of tribal imagery, the art of tribal cultures was compared to the art of Western children. This supported the notion that adults of ‘inferior’ races were comparable to children of the White race. Chalmers (1992) observes that this overt racism "is covertly embedded in much of what has been called elitist aesthetic and art education theory.” ---

One of the most important canvases of the twentieth century, Picasso’s great breakthrough painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was constructed in response to several significant sources. First amongst these was his confrontation with Cézanne’s great achievement at the posthumous retrospective mounted in Paris a year after the artist’s death in 1907. The retrospective exhibition forced the young Picasso, Matisse and many other artists to contend with the implications of Cézanne’s art. Matisse’s Bonhe

e Vivre of 1906 was one of the first of many attempts to do so, and the newly completed work was quickly purchased by Leo & Gertrude Stein and hung in their living room so that all of their circle of avant-garde writers and artists could see and praise it. And praise it they did. Here was the promise of Cézanne fulfilled—and one which incorporated lessons learned from Seurat and Van Gogh, no less! This was just too much for the young Spaniard.

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“Most of all, this is a painting about looking. Picasso looks back at you in the central figure, whose bold gaze out of huge asymmetrical eyes has the authority of a self-portrait. It’s interesting that we’re trained to see transvestite self-portraits in the art of Leonardo or Marcel Duchamp, but it doesn’t often occur to us to understand this painting in that way, misled as we are by the caricatures of Picasso as a patriarchal voyeur. What he painted in 1907 is a work of art that looks back at you with furious contempt.

What struck Picasso about African masks was the most obvious thing: that they disguise you, turn you into something else – an animal, a demon, a god. Modernism is an art that wears a mask. It does not say what it means; it is not a window but a wall. Picasso picked his subject matter precisely because it was a cliche: he wanted to show that originality in art does not lie in narrative, or morality, but in formal invention.”

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