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Friday, August 3, 2012

Mr. Ruiz's Boy



The two pictures above show facility with a paintbrush as well as a firm understanding of color and composition, but they are not great paintings. What makes them remarkable is that they were painted by a fifteen year old boy by the name of Ruiz. Ruiz would later quarrel with his father, whose surname was common, the Spanish equivalent of “Smith.” The boy would eventually sign his paintings with his mother’s maiden name—Picasso.


Over the years many people have told me they hate Picasso’s work. I’ve said to them, “Look a bit harder; Picasso created more paintings than any other artist in history and I’m certain he painted something you can enjoy.” I doubt I have changed many minds.


In 1940 Picasso was the most famous artist alive. By 1950 he was the most famous artist to have ever lived. It’s understandable that legends would swirl around someone to have achieved this level of success. The following is one of my favorites:


Pablo’s father was himself a painter as well as an instructor at the Barcelona Art Academy. It’s said that one day Pablo entered his father’s studio and studied the work in progress on his father’s easel, a scene crowded with the pigeons that flocked in the plaza outside the family home. As the story goes, Pablo gazed at the body of a dead pigeon his father was using as a model. He picked up his father’s brushes and added his own pigeon to the canvas. His father entered the studio, saw what Pablo had done and vowed to never paint again. According to legend, he was horrified that after years of painting and teaching he couldn’t handle a brush nearly as well as a ten year old.


This account might be an exaggeration, but there’s no doubt that Pablo was a precocious boy and by the time he was thirteen his budding talent already overshadowed his father's.


But Picasso lived and painted for nearly eight more decades. Having mastered all there was to learn about traditional technique, what was left for him to do? Repeat his accomplishments ad nauseum? He chose not to pursue academia, deciding instead to forge a new path, one never before traveled. He shattered reality and reassembled it into what would later be called Cubism. He embraced the ideas of primitive cultures in an effort to probe beneath the surface of things to explore transcendent truths. Museums across the planet were filled with paintings replicating the natural world, but for him this was quite literally child’s play.


I hear people say of Picasso, “My kid can paint better than that!” As if there was no difference between the work of Picasso and a child. I’ve studied Picasso’s later works and they do look childlike. I remember driving past a billboard advertising a restaurant chain. The billboard showed a burger and fries drawn in crayon, designed to look like a child’s drawing. But you could tell a Madison Avenue adman had hired a professional illustrator to mimic the manner in which children draw. This happens all the time; yesterday I saw a TV commercial for an airline with kids drawing the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge—destinations serviced by the airline. But it was appallingly apparent that a deception was taking place—kids don’t draw that way, but adult artists pretending to be children do.


So when someone says they can’t tell the difference between Picasso’s work and a child they’re unwittingly offering up an extremely high compliment. Picasso could paint like a virtuoso when he was ten, yet in his nineties he became a child and painted like one. Amazing! He’d come full circle, harnessing and reversing the monster plaguing humanity from the start—time. Never before has this been accomplished through the power of art.



32 comments:

  1. Thank you, Stephen. What a fabulous way of looking at his evolution. I will definitely look a bit harder.

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  2. Fascinating. I'll never look at a Picasso the same way again. (And now you've made me want to Google his earlier works-)

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  3. Thank you Stephen, a most illuminating post.

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  4. Fascinating! I knew none of this about Picasso. Would you tell us about other famous artists some other time please?

    S

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  5. While i don't like everything he did, i do like a good portion of his work, and you've given me a new way to look at what didn't really appeal to me before.

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  6. That was interesting. I learned some things I didn't know. (which really isn't a leap as there are a lot of things I don't know)

    I paused a minute and went through an on-line Picasso gallery and there are some paintings I really like. I think I, like most people equate him with the works like Young Tormented Girl (1939) of which has me scratching my head going "huh? But then I am not an artist, I just go by what would look cool on my wall. Ignorance really simplifies some things.

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  7. I did not know much about Picasso.
    This post is enlightening !

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  8. You have done an excellent job of enlightening your readership with a telling of Picasso's life work. He is one of my favorite artists. And up until now I had a "clinical" eye as to his work. Now I can add your information, stir and have a even better view of Picasso. Thanks so much, Oma Linda

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  9. His work does nothing for me. It just doesn't. I loved the history lesson though as I didn't know any of this.

    Have a terrific day. ;)

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  10. I couldn't agree more. I have no art background but have always loved Picasso, primarily because of his variety and changing periods of art.

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  11. Perhaps because I can't even draw a stick figure, I admire anyone who can draw or paint anything. But, Picasso's work has always left me cold. Perhaps I should go back and look at his earlier stuff?

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  12. Wonderfully written. I'm sure a lot of people would be surprised to see where Picasso started (i.e., that he was brilliantly capable of traditional, realistic illustration, as well).

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  13. I wish the art history class I took in college was this fascinating. Well done, fried. Have a great weekend.

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  14. I read a biography of Picasso which showed illustrations of his path from traditional painting to Cubism. The latter made a lot more sense to me after viewing the progression.

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  15. I've been celebrating all the British gold medals in the cycling tonight, and drinking copious quantities of fine ale. I'd like to say something intellectual but my brain is addled with too much alcohol. You clearly know your stuff Stephen.

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  16. Art history in college was a sleeper, but you bring the subject to life each and every time. Happy Blogaversary.

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  17. Thank you for the art education! As someone who is totally illiterate about art, I like the idea of getting your thoughts and knowledge on famous painters. And if you'll do what lowandslow is suggesting, then do Salvador Dali next...I want to go to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.

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  18. I gradually came to love Picasso, and there are so many great anecdotes about him, you're right. He created such a diverse body of work, going from realism to classicism to abstraction and working in both 2D and 3D. Wow. People who say they dislike Picasso may not have had a chance to see his work in real life; it's so much easier to love it when you're looking at the real thing.

    Back when I taught art in Alabama I took a school full of kids to the big Picasso exhibit in Atlanta & still have the t-shirt to prove it!

    Apropos of the "childishness" of some of Picasso's work, a favorite quote of his: It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.

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  19. G'day CC. Great story. Picasso was a great artist, no two ways about it. Take care. Liz...

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  20. Very enlightening! I've often been compared to Picasso...or Picaseaux, one of the two.

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  21. I like these lectures on art! For someone who is very limited when it comes to art appreciation these posts are most helpful.

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  22. A quite interesting post. I would love to be able to create some sort of art the way Picasso did. Yes some of his work may be hard to understand and leave you scratching your head, but if you truly look at it you can see talent.
    I took an art class in high school and really enjoyed it. My teacher was great and with his guidance I was able to draw a few items that looked decent. I surprised myself with what I was able to draw. It took much concentration and several attempts. It did not simply flow from the pencil or brush the way some in my class were able to, but it was fun and I learned from the experience. I can just imagine how Picasso's father felt seeing the ease with which his son could create such fine art. It was probably a mixture of pride and frustration.

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  23. I love his cubist period, it's the older more boring stuff I can't get into. You'd never have guessed I studied history of art for 4 years at uni from that last sentence. Ha. :D

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  24. I admit, I was never that impressed with Picasso's work either, but that all changed when I lived in Madrid and went to the Museo Reina Sofía. Most people know this is the home of "La Guernica", but it was his other paintings and most of all, the exhibits surrounding "La Guernica" that detailed the process of creating the masterpiece that made the biggest impression on me. I left with a whole new appreciation of Picasso's achievements.

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  25. Like everyone else, I really liked this. Very interesting and I love your view on his later pieces.

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  26. whenever i hear the name Pablo Picasso i always think of the Monty Python sketch where they keep referring back to Picasso's attempts to do a painting whilst on a bicycle - which fail when he falls off.

    I don't know his work well enough to really have an opinion

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  27. Very interesting. He's not my favorite, but you should definitely teach art history.

    Love,
    Janie

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  28. ah, thanks for this. i am no art historian but i was aware of picasso's incredibly wide range. i do enjoy his work and i very much enjoyed your perspective on his work.

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  29. I never thought Picasso's cubism works looked childish. Weird, but not childish. I had no doubt he was a genius; I just knew it wan't my kind of art. I like realistic paintings. And dogs playing poker.

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  30. I'm not really all that into art, and I won't pretend enough to say that I like or dislike his work. I did, however find your post to be very interesting. Sometimes you really do have to look deeper to appreciate what is in front of you and what the artist intended it to be, whether you like the style or not. Well done!

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