Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Cubism has become a monument...."

In this corner, we have a close-up of a Cubist work by Pablo Picasso, from 1912: Violin, Glass and Pipe on Table.  The painting (31 7/8" x 21 1/4" in the original) includes the classic elements, with stencilled letters, everyday objects with more than one side, as if we are walking around each one, the lines emanating from different horizons and centers, and, in a new move, some color (which would flex its muscles in the next few years):

There is no denying that this is a beautiful thing.  It's the arrow shot from Cezanne's bow. But when you read Francoise Gilot (Life with Picasso) on her conversations with Picasso about Cubism ... she reports that he dismissed it as an important era in his art. Really. And she is VERY convincing on this point.

Not long after I first read her book, Picasso appeared to me in a dream. He said to me, in a tone that was urgent and agitated, that "Cubism has become a monument. It must not be a monument." 

When Picasso stops by to converse, I always listen ... and try to determine what he meant. And so I turned to Gertrude Stein, who sat for her portrait with him (for 90 sittings) as he was turning from the harlequins to the Demoiselles. No-one converses with Stein and comes away unscathed, artistically.  Stein would develop a distinction between what she called human nature/identity and the human mind/entity. Identity is pleasurable for the artist, and seems lovely at first, and results in art created for money or reputation, totally dependent on an audience (for whom the art-work or prose was very likely painted or written). But the real thing, entity, is art that is "not necessary," and is not based in memory or reproduction, but in writing "what it knows." That, she would say, is the real thing.

When I saw was confronted with Picasso's statement in my dream ... that monuments were not so wonderful, I aligned the monument idea with Stein's idea of identity.  It is art made for reputation, money, audience. Or it is a great hulking piece of marble, remembering an event or a regiment. And so, it is sad, it is past, it is a label, it is fixed, it is finished. Here, someone was born, or celebrated a victory, or died. Monument.  Art should have no truck with monuments. Picasso was telling me (or I was telling myself, as I slept) that Cubism was at first a series of exciting and bracing and unprecedented discoveries, with Braque, but then ... once it was "done," it was done. Like a Jackson Pollock, it gets imitators, but it is, itself, a done deal.

The part of the self that creates true art is Stein's entity. She mentions arches, the arches that were near St. Remy, as part of the land, as existing in the moment. Immersed. Creative.  Not preserved in aspic, but mysterious. We struggle to keep up. And so I have this series of archways that are my response:

"Look, we have come through'"said D.H. Lawrence. An archway allows for this moment, for growth, for passage on to the next phase, for optimism in the face of fear, for art.

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