.After Cubism, the world would never look the same again. Although a relatively short period of time and limited number of artists encapsulated the Cubist movement in art history, its impact was huge. Cubism was so revolutionary that it changed the way that both artists and those who love art came to understand what art could encompass.
In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire, Cubism was “the art of painting original arrangements composed of elements taken from conceived, rather than perceived, reality.” No longer did perceived reality (what the artist saw) dictate what art should look like; instead, it was built on what the artist could imagine. In Cubism, every aspect and every side of an entire subject could be seen simultaneously, all in a single dimension.
Spanish painter Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is famed for his artistic genius, but he began as a painter living in a country (Spain) at the turn of the century that he found to be too provincial. His vision was too large for his environment, and his acclaim ultimately emanated from his sheer capacity for invention. He began with Blue and Rose periods of painting, which reflected his feeling of melancholy and restriction.
By the time he painted the controversial “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1909), Picasso had already moved to France and found a community of like-minded artists. One of Picasso’s most prolific period came in 1908-1912, launched by this unusual painting. At first, Picasso was afraid to show his friends this work, a painting that fundamentally changed cognitive reality. Named after a notorious place of prostitution, the painting was the first work to show multiple sides of a group of women all at one time (a theme he would continue to explore for years).
Few artists understood what Picasso was trying to do, not only in trying to show a different way of understanding reality, but also in incorporating Primativism (that is, works of folk art emanating from non-Western parts of the world). The reflection of African masks can be seen clearly in the face of one of the women in this unusual and beautiful painting. One painter who understood perfectly what Picasso was trying to do was French painter Georges Braque (1882-1963). Together they would explore this new artistic vision, working side by side.
Analytic and synthetic cubism
Cubism is typically characterized by its two phases. The first, Analytic Cubism, began with a breakdown of subjects that Picasso and Braque were painting into a number of facets and planes, showcasing several aspects of objects simultaneously. This work concentrated on geometric forms and used a palette of subdued colors. The second phase, Synthetic Cubism, used more decorative shapes, and incorporated techniques of stenciling, collage, and a brighter palette of colors. Artists started using pieces of alternative paper (like newspaper), incorporating these images into their work.
Papier colle and collage
The technique of papier colle (“pasted paper”) was invented by Georges Braque in 1913. At that time, he cut out squares of paper that imitated wood, adhering them to cardboard and creating a still life that incorporated this false wood. This technique was adopted by Picasso and Matisse and usually involved paper with imitation wood engravings, stenciled lettering, and fake marble, placed in layers on canvas before painting.
This collage effect (using a wide variety of alternative material, such as paper, news clippings, and photographs) was adapted not only by the Cubists, but was later adopted by artists like Max Ernst and the Surrealists. Georges Braque also pioneered another technique during this period: mixing sand with paint to achieve a more textured effect.
The third Cubist
Although the movement of Cubism affected many artists, the circle of Cubism was small, largely confined to the experimentation of Picasso and Braque. Yet there was one more Cubist who deserves special mention: Juan Gris (1887-1927). Because this Spanish painter died very young, he never progressed into other artistic visions and is often labeled as the single “absolute Cubist.”
Gris’s contribution to the Cubist movement was profound, however. He brightened and clarified the movement, and this joyfulness can be seen in one of his most famous works, “Fantomas” (1915). This harlequin-like painting, characterized by shifting planes, reflects the world of entertainment, containing bits of newspaper, magazines, and other media in a bright, stylish sophisticated whole.
Cubism’s lasting value
Although the Cubist paintings were complex, they relied on simple subjects, like drinking glasses, newspapers, and musical instruments. Many of the paintings even look strikingly similar in subject and tone. Braque once compared his relationship to Picasso as that of two climbers, roped together, each pulling the other upward. Braque alone was the only painter to ever work closely with Picasso on an idea and ideal. Together they carried art –through Cubism — to a brilliant new level. No longer would there be boundaries to the truth, as seen through art. Instead, a form would emerge, incorporating a wide range of aspects all intuited together. It was a revolution.