Today, I will be talking about CUBISM, a unique art movement which started around 1907. When we talk about cubism today, there is always one artist who comes immediately to mind- Pablo Picasso. Surely you have heard of him, haven’t you? Picasso was a Spanish multi-talented artist who worked in a wide variety of art forms, Paintings, Sculpting, print making, collage, Ceramics and more. Picasso spent most of his adult life in France, living and working there.
Many people today consider him one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. This is not surprising as I can hardly think of anybody who hasn’t heard of Picasso. Amongst other things, he is known for co-founding the Cubist art movement along with another early cubist artist called George Braque. There is of course a controversy around this because there are various claims regarding when cubism really started. That is another story. The world of art is full of anecdotes, little tales of who has done what, who is good enough and who is not good, what is art and what is not art, rivalries, and so on.
And so the story goes that in 1908 Louis Vauxcelles, an art critic of that period wrote a review following the exhibition of the artist Georges Braque. In this review, Louis called Braque a daring man, who despises form, "reducing everything, places, figures and houses, to geometric schemas, to cubes. He referred to Braque’s works as cubic oddities, very derogatory and So, the term Cubism was born. So, what is cubism? What does it mean and how can we recognise it? Well, Cubism is simply a different way to represent reality. In a cubist painting, the artist brings together different views of the subject on one canvas. For example, in a cubist painting of a face, the features of the face don’t have to be positioned in the right order, it doesn’t even need to be in the shape of a face, it can be a cube, a rectangle, a hexagon, pyramid, and so on. Also in a cubist painting of a human form or object, all the different elements don’t have to be in the right position as long as they are there. For example, we know the features we find on a face right, two eyes, a mouth, a nose, chin and so one. So, a cubist face will have all these features but in any random order and position.
One of the most recognisable features of cubism is the use of geometry. Imagine this scenario, you ask a cubist artist to paint a portrait of your dog. the tail of the dog could be at the head in a rectangular form, the head could be represented by several random squares, with the features of the face of your dog inserted in any random position as squares, lines, triangles and other geometric forms. When you look at it, You will know that it is the portrait of a dog, but not how it is in real life. That’s what cubism is all about., a three-dimensional object can be slashed and flattened into two dimensional pieces, according to the will of the artist. In order words, the head could be sliced into two, with the arms coming out in between and the eyes at the chin and so on.
Cubism is also about making geometrical shapes out of rounded forms, it is about using angles to represent the subjects with carless abandon to what goes where. Cubist paintings often appear abstracted, disfigured and angular. In a cubist painting, objects or indeed the subjects are broken up and reassembled in random positions. The artist depicts the subject from different viewpoints, as if to say “what if”. Cubist paintings questions what is accepted as reality, is what you see, what you really get?. That is the question. Cubism is a deconstruction of forms and a simplification of perspective. But of course, this is a simplified explanation, as the movement has expanded from its beginnings to so much more.
Though Cubism has been considered the most influential art movement of the 20th century, it was a traumatic experience to be a cubist artist at the time. The style was considered very Avant Garde, very shocking, very mad indeed. The artists were heavily criticized. The salon des independents in Paris of 1911 brought the cubist art movement to the attention of the wider public for the first time with turbulent reviews and controversy. The controversy did not stop there, the following year, in 1912, the cubist artists exhibited at the autumn exhibition which was held in a public building. This created an even bigger scandal regarding the use of government building to exhibit such scandalous artwork. The indignation was so intense that it led to a political debate in the French national assembly about the use of public funds for such art. That is the power of art. Shunned by regular art dealers and collectors who were accustomed to realistic art, some of the cubists artists found a supporter in a certain art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, This gentleman was very clever, he undertood that though the critic was intense, but it could actually work in favour of the artists in the future, so he was seeing pound signs. He guaranteed some of the cubism artist an annual income for the exclusive right to buy their works.
This dealer saw the potential of their work and was willing to take a chance. Every artist needs a Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler . He was their greatest spokesperson and perhaps, the most influential art dealer who preached the importance of their work to the wider public. In 2019, it took Christies auction 8 minutes to sell a Picasso painting for $106.5 million dollars. Though cubism is not my area of specialism, I am a fan myself and this can be found in my own colourful depiction of Zaha Hadid. The elegance and futuristic mathematical nature of this style appeals to me a lot. Cubism is a main stream art style in this century, with a vast number of artists influenced by it, from sculpture, to abstract art, fashion and so much more. Cubism paved the way for many different forms of art of today. I recommend that you read a bit more about this incredible movement and most importantly, try to identify pieces of arts and artists whose work are influenced by this.
written by Chinwe Russel,
edited and published by Becky Rydel