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Cubism

Cubism

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will discuss Cubism.

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Tutorial

An overview on Analytic and Synthetic Cubism.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Cubism. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the influences that led to the development of Cubism, and identify examples of Cubist art.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Cubism, a 20th century art movement characterized by qualities of abstracted figures and forms, overlapping planes and facets, and colors that are often muted browns or monochromatic tones. Analytic Cubism, a technique of inventing shapes and characteristics that would symbolize an object or person.

Synthetic Cubism, a technique that incorporates the methods of Analytic Cubism but uses collage and actual overlapped materials to represent a metaphor for life and art. And collage, a French word meaning a pasting. It is artwork created by using the technique of layering unrelated scraps or fragments into a composition.

The big idea for today is that Cubism extended the formal innovations of Cezanne and made a break with the illusionistic depiction of space in the European tradition that preceded it. And we'll be looking at works of art from between 1907 and 1912. We'll be traveling to Paris, France, where Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque worked independently and together in the early part of the 20th century.

So the Cubist movement encompasses a style of art, as well as a philosophy about how art portrays subject matter, specifically in how perspective is used. Now Georges Braque is noted for commenting on what he saw as the confinement of traditional art instruction, and thought of Cubism as a way of breaking free from that confinement.

As a style, Cubism in a nutshell includes multiple views or multiple perspectives within the same composition, the reduction of 3D space to flatter, two-dimensional planes, geometric construction, and the influence from the superficial expressive qualities of primitive forms of art, specifically the mask art of Africa, Tahiti, and the Marquesas Islands.

So this painting by Pablo Picasso called Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is considered the painting that really started the whole Cubist movement. Now, it's definitely a different take on the more traditional female nude paintings from times past. Picasso intended the painting to be shocking and challenge the work of Matisse, his friend and rival who was more popular at the time.

Well, mission accomplished. This painting was extremely controversial at the time. First of all, the name in reference to Avignon, the temporary 14th century home of the Papal court. But Avignon is also the name of a red light district in Barcelona, Spain, which is probably what this painting is referring to.

Now, Picasso completely throws aside traditional depictions of perspective and reduces the entire image to the very immediate two-dimensional picture plane in the foreground. The figures, as well as the surrounding space, are broken up into shards of geometric forms. And the space in which the women exist seems as tangible as the women themselves.

Now, I've always looked at Cubist art from the perspective-- no pun intended-- that I'm looking at a broken mirror or a stained glass window. The nature of stained glass places everything in the immediate foreground, like we see here. But the broken mirror analogy is most fitting, I think. Just like a broken mirror, Picasso's image is broken into shards. Each seem to show a slightly different perspective, some more noticeably than others.

Now, the figure on the far left was supposedly originally a man, possibly a medical student if I remember correctly. And Picasso reworked the figure of the man to move the viewer into the role of the customer. It's no longer the gentleman entering on the left, which is now a woman. It's us. We are the customer.

The women stare directly at the viewer, creating a similar disinterested, I guess you could call it, interaction that recalls Manet's Olympia. Now, with their angular depictions, the women appear dangerous-looking. Picasso's posturing of the two central figures was considered to be particularly divisive. Matisse felt that he was mocking modern art, like Matisse's work, something that almost broke their friendship apart.

Now, the influence of Iberian sculpture is apparent particularly with the almond-shaped eye. Here's an example of an Iberian sculpture.

Now, the influence of African masks is also evident with the two figures on the far right. Many artists of this time were super-interested in the "primitive"-- I'll put that in quotes-- art of other cultures, such as those of Africa or the South Pacific Islands colonized by the French, like Tahiti. Now, Picasso was interested in the superficial qualities of simplification and abstraction, which worked well in this new design aesthetic.

Now, though it caused tension between Picasso and the art community, not everyone was appalled. The French artist Georges Braque saw great potential in Picasso's vision. And the two began a joint endeavor and friendship to create a new form of art, an art form that built upon the formal innovations of artists like Cezanne, who sought to reduce elements of a composition to their basic geometric forms and broke with the traditional illusionistic depiction of 3D space.

Now, Braque and Picasso developed two forms of Cubism, analytic and synthetic. And we'll look at an example of each form from either Braque or Picasso, comparing and contrasting them to determine how the two styles-- or how to tell the two styles apart.

So this first image is called Violin and Candlestick from 1910. It's an example of Analytic Cubism. It's oil on canvas. And it's by Georges Braque.

I'll let you take a look at that just for a moment. We'll come back to it in just a second.

And the second example is called Still Life with Chair Caning. It is from 1912. It's an example of Synthetic Cubism. It is a collage, which is important. And it's by Pablo Picasso.

So how do you tell them apart? Well, Analytic Cubist paintings tended to stick to more neutral colors, like you see here. But it was the composition, the medium, and the depiction of subject matter that really sets the two forms apart.

Analytic Cubism follows in the similar vein of the painting that inspired it, Les Demoiselles, which makes sense given that Analytic Cubism was slightly earlier than Synthetic chronologically. Now, like a broken mirror, the composition is broken up into geometric shards, giving us multiple perspectives simultaneously. This hadn't really been done before, at least not so overtly.

Now the subject matter is somewhat discernible. For instance, here's the violin. And here's what I always thought was the candlestick, with what I also thought was part of a candle and the suggestion of a flame, although I could be way off. Regardless though, although not completely abstract, you can see that art is starting to head in that direction.

Now Synthetic Cubism is a synthesis of different types of media, which is the easiest way to tell the two styles apart. One is oil painting or a type of painting, like in Analytic Cubism. And the other is a synthesis of multiple types of media, like paper and oil painting.

So to the best my knowledge, this piece by Picasso is the first example of collage in high art. Picasso has taken the idea of using overlapping geometric forms, but has used scraps of real materials, like paper, rather than painted forms. Now in terms of what it represents, I couldn't say. It is though, to my eye, more abstract than the previous example, but not completely abstract. For example, the chair caning is very clear.

Now, complete abstraction is something that Braque and Picasso never moved into. They always sort of pumped their brakes before they made that leap, the leap that other artists like Wassily Kandinsky eventually made.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again and see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the influences that led to the development of Cubism, and identify examples of Cubist art? And once again, the big idea for today is that Cubism extended the formal innovations of Cezanne and made a break with the illusionistic depiction of space in the European tradition that preceded it.

And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Citations


Citations


TERMS TO KNOW
  • Cubism

    A 20th century art movement characterized by qualities of abstracted figures and forms, overlapping planes and facets, and colors that are often muted browns or monochromatic tones.

  • Analytic cubism

    A technique of inventing shapes and characteristics that would symbolize an object or person.

  • Synthetic cubism

    A technique that incorporates the methods of ‘analytic cubism’ but uses collage and actual overlapped materials to represent a metaphor for life and art.

  • Collage

    A French word meaning “a pasting,” it is artwork created by using the technique of layering unrelated scraps or fragments into a composition.