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Lesson Plans

Re: Cubism

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Eric Utech (
Thu, 21 Nov 1996 09:11:49 -0600 (CST)

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Perhaps I spoke too quickly, which is often the case.

My take on cubism is that it is more real than realism. I think that
Picasso and Braque were looking for a deeper understanding of what they
were depicting. In some ways, I think they may have been trying to show
more than the parameters of flat painting on canvas would allow when
painting realistically. Uccello was one of the early Renaissance painters
who was struggling with the (lost?) formal use of perspective. As I see
it, Uccello was striving for realistic portrayal of an event in the sense
that it "looked real" (whether it did or not is a whole other issue.)
Picasso, on the other hand, had the whole of art history to build
on. Mathematically pleasing, perfect-perspective depiction had pretty much
been done centuries earlier by Raphael, and later twisted, pulled, tweeked,
and otherwise commented upon by the Mannerists. By the time Picasso showed
up, painting had gone through a number of periods of style. He was
fortunate enough to be born at a time when industry, scientific
observation, and time arts were experiencing there own "Renaissance."
Without shooting my mouth off too much, I think that Picasso had a
lot more tools at his disposal in the sense that he was free to explore
more uncharted territory, like how time and space are connected. (Einstein
and Picasso were contemporaries.) Uccello had the responsibility of
reinvigorating art with realism. Picasso was able to apply all of art
history to the new events of the twentieth century. I'm sure he thought a
lot about the limits of painting regarding depiction of time and motion
through space. Cubism was for him, and Braque, and Duchamp, a way to look
at several perspectives at once, as if one was moving around the depicted
scene. One example of the ongoing quandry that this in turn started is
Picasso's "cubist" sculpture, which doesn't look that different from plain
old ordinary (whatever) sculpture because you can, after all, really walk
around sculpture and observe from different sides.
I'm also sure that the cubists were all inspired by the power of
the cinema, that twentieth-century invention that has certainly changed the
Robert Alexander and others of you have very carefully considered
this issue. I especially enjoyed Robert's strong organisation of cubist
reasonings. I agree that there is a whole spiritual side to cubist work
relating to seeing through planes, attaching equal importance to positive
and negative space, etc., and I havn't even touched on Picasso's obvious
influence by African art. Then there is the flattening of cubist art,
possibly leading toward deconstructive, complete abstraction, or just as
likely, hyper realism and pop art, with all their issues. Picasso and the
Renaissance are topics that I could go on and on about, but now I have a
class to teach....
Thank you all for your great comments, and good luck to Janice!

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