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A History and Interpretation of Picasso

Picasso was born on October 25 1881, in Malaga, Spain. His father was a Spanish painter and an art professor, and as a result, he contributed greatly to Picasso’s early art education. In fact, beginning at the early age of 7, Picasso received training from his father in art. As a firm follower in a classical art education, Picasso’s father believed that to gain a proper training in art, you must first go through a disciplined studying of master artists. As a result, many of Picasso’s earliest paintings did not resemble his unique style at all, but were more realistic and rational. However, Picasso eventually learned the values of precision and refined his technical ability with painting and in the 1900’s, he moved to study art in Paris, the then capital of art in Europe. He spent the majority of his adult life in France and created an estimated 50,000 artworks in his lifetime. Picasso died on April 8, 1973 at 91 years old.

One of Picasso’s major contributions to the art world was his founding of the Cubism movement of art with Georges Braque. The Cubism movement can be split into two major components: analytical cubism and synthetic cubism. Analytical cubism was the first style that Picasso experimented with. It is characterized by a breaking down of an image into its components and then a re-arrangement of these components back together. Analytical cubism often resulted in images that did not resemble anything realistic at all, and is often difficult to understand. Synthetic cubism is characterized by incorporating things in the actual real world onto the canvas, and not just paint. Examples include pieces of newspaper articles and sheet music. This in turn challenged the perception of art. This was a major device in the shift to modern art and continues to be an important element in the creation of many modern art works.

Nowadays, what would you define as art? Traditionally, much of art has been a realistic depiction of a person or place. However, by the 1900’s, photography’s ability to accurately capture all the details of a scene or person soon eclipsed any painting or portrait. John Berger illustrates this in one of the essays, where he asked whether you would prefer a photograph of a person or a portrait of that same person as a means of identification. In most cases, the picture would be more accurate. As a result, artists were forced to found a new means of expression, one that would illustrate the uniqueness of painting as compared to photography. One of the pioneers for such an art style was Pablo Picasso. In a John Berger essay, Picasso is mentioned to have demonstrated that “within the confusion, out of the debris that characterized the time period, new ideas, new values, new ways of looking at the world can and will develop.” Many of his works were revolutionary even though they were often not a realistic portrayal. Two of his works, Three Women at a Spring, and Girl Before a Mirror, capture this attempt to take art into a different realm. These two artworks exemplify a common theme known today: that art exists in many different forms, whether it is an abstract portrait, a sculpted creation, or a piece of music. Picasso painted both art pieces during the same relative time period (the summer of 1921 for Three Women at a Spring and March 1932 for Girl Before a Mirror). Both are also scenes of women and both are oil and canvas paintings. They are both large in size with similar dimensions (the Three Women at a Spring is slightly bigger at 203.9 x 174 cm and the Girl Before a Mirror is 162.3 x 130.2 cm). However, there are many noticeable differences between the two works of art. Some of these differences include the subject matter and especially the composition of the artworks in terms of organization and color.

The subject matter of Girl Before a Mirror is different then that of Three Women at a Spring. The former portrays the universal topic of how people perceive their own image; in this case, a girl. I found myself drawn to this painting because I too have had times when I just stared in the mirror trying to make sense of myself. I find that many times when I looked in the mirror, I would question whether I was really seeing myself.  This disconnection between the physical body and the mind is clearly expressed in Picasso’s painting. In the portrait, the girl is looking at herself in the mirror, but the image in the mirror looks nothing like her true self. In fact, the girl staring in the mirror and her reflection looks like two completely different people. The girl in the reflection looks like very sad and disfigured while the actual girl seems to be very happy and fun loving. This illustrates the idea that the persona expressed on the outside is often different than the persona hidden on the inside.  People tend to judge themselves a lot more harshly when they see themselves in the mirror.

On the other hand, the painting of Three Women at the Spring’s portrays three women conversing with each other at the spring. I was attracted to this portrait because it seemed to be filled with sadness. They are at a spring, but it seemed clear to me that they were not there to just be happy and relax; they came to the spring to talk about their individual troubles. The girl in the middle reflects this dark mood. The expression on her face suggests that she is overcome by a deep sadness. This sadness reminds me of the many times I have been depressed over numerous events in my life. Consequently, I think it is great that she is releasing her sadness out and talking about it with her friends and thus getting better.  So while a Girl before a Mirror is about the theme of self-perception, Three Women before a Spring is the idea of women socializing.

In addition, the organizations of both paintings are different. The organization of Girl before a Mirror is a very complex. There are numerous geometric shapes scattered throughout the painting. The girl’s neck in the painting is represented by triangles. Perfect circles represent her breast and stomach. A part of one of the girl’s hand is made up of 2 small trapezoids. The background is made up of many small individual units of rhombuses, and inside each rhombus is a circle. These regular shapes combine to form an intricate diamond patterned background that reminded me of a carpet. All of these elements give the painting a sense of geometric order even though the painting is very asymmetrical. The vast number of shapes in the painting also gives the painting a sense of crowdedness.

The organization of Three Women at the Spring is looser when compared with Girl before a Mirror. While there are geometric shapes such as the shape of the vase in the painting, most of the shapes aren’t geometric at all. The three girls in the painting are not represented by geometric shapes, but instead look more lifelike and human. However, there is still the element of surrealism in the painting, as the three girls in the painting don’t look realistic despite their lifelike shapes. Also, the background in the painting is difficult to recognize at all. Unlike the highly ordered diamond patterned background in Girl before a Mirror, the background of Three Women at the Spring is wrought with uncertainty; in fact, you cannot even deduce that the girls are at the spring at all. The looseness of the background also gives the painting a feeling of freeness and spaciousness in contrast to Girl before a Mirror, which seems crowded. However, while the background of the painting is loose, the painting is still ordered because the solid shapes of the three girls, the vague shapes of rocks and a chair, and the two vases ground the painting from becoming too abstract. As a result, both paintings radiate a sense of order and solid structure in their organization.

The colors are also different in both paintings. The colors of Girl before a Mirror are very vivid. They are varied and many of them are bright and noticeable. This in turn makes the painting immediately stand out from its surrounding white wall. There is also a marked difference in coloration between the girl and her reflection. While the girl is mainly colored with colors that radiate warmness like pink, red, and yellow, her reflection on the other hand is colored with more cooler and darker colors such as blue and purple. This allows for the interesting contrast between the girl and her image, which gives the painting its mystery and excitement.

The coloring of Three Women at the Spring is extremely far removed from the coloring of Girl before a Mirror. The colors in Three Women at the Spring are very subdued and low key. The colors in this painting seem to imbue the painting with a sense of sorrow due to its varying shades of brown and grey. There isn’t much contrast in colors of the painting, and instead there are a lot more similarities in coloring throughout the painting. This actually turned out to strengthen the painting. For example, giving the girls the same color dresses turned out to be a particular effective element in the painting because it gives a sort of unity to the three girls and unites the three girls in a common purpose. One can see that the coloring of Three Women at the Spring and Girl before a Mirror are both very different and the coloring sets very different tones for both the paintings.

These differences between paintings, while very noticeable, highlight a common theme that art comes in many different forms and styles. In art, there are no limits to expression. As a result of the many different forms of art made by Picasso, the art world was forever changed and his artwork became the basis for many artists in the transition to modern art. Nowadays, art can be seen anywhere and in multiple different forms. In fact, new challenges as to what exactly is art abound and occur as more and more artists develop new ideas that radicalize the art industry. Traditional perceptions of art have been transformed since the time of Picasso and his innovative new ideas. These ideas served to push art into a modern direction that continues on to this day.

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