From the beginning of Picasso’s career to the end, he depicted life-size figures. An essential aspect of this way of working is made curiously prominent in Boy Leading a Horse—because an effortful, first moment of learning reinstalls itself in an uninvited fashion. Recall that the palmar grasp affords a longer range but simultaneously deprives the artist of his ability to maintain the hand in a flowing continuous movement across the surface (as evident in the photograph of the École).
The combination of flatness, enframing, and the implied interchangeability of consumer goods that we see in Warhol’s Soup Cans is both characteristic and telling. In front of such works, I can only think of what the philosopher Martin Heidegger referred to as the “standing reserve.” Insofar as our present sense of reality is shaped by the technological age in which we live, we increasingly treat all entities, Heidegger claimed, as intrinsically meaningless “resources,” a “reserve” standing by merely to be optimized and ordered for maximally flexible use.
There is a deep schism within Pollock criticism. Taking Pollock’s marks to index the artist’s activity elevates the causes of his paintings over their meanings, with the consequence that his works of art are reduced to intentionless surfaces that just register his “traces.” That position implicitly requires us to reject the status of a painting as a medium of expression, and treat it instead as an occasion for a viewer’s experience. But Pollock’s project–one that finds its most rigorous articulation in formalist accounts of his art–is based on demarcating the actual from the representational, the literal surface from pictorial meaning.
The works’ achievement—“triumph,” we might even say—resides precisely in their ability to make both things simultaneously apparent. Admission or acknowledgement alone would have amounted to mere acceptance, resulting in something simply, flatly decorative, and detached from any engagement with the world. Conversely, antipathy or avoidance on its own would have been tantamount to a denial of how much painting (and the world around it) had changed in the first decade or so of the twentieth century. It is finally this doubledness, I would argue—the works’ acknowledgement of loss and their stubborn refusal to be reconciled to it—that makes them the compelling, occasionally haunting, images they are.
We see two figures, entwined. What appears to be a woman, at left—tall and hulking, her right, striped pant leg forcefully set down—puts her arms around a smaller figure at right, probably a man, who responds with a kiss. Perhaps the kiss is joyous, enough to have the man raise what looks like his left foot, a kick in ecstasy. But something else is apparent.
At the core of Knossos and The Prophets of Modernism lies the problem of historical interpretation. The excavation and reconstruction of the palace at Knossos—paid for and overseen directly by Evans—unveiled extraordinary murals and colorful columns to the public. But as Gere makes clear, the palace was in fact rebuilt in modern concrete, the first such structure on the island. What at first glance appears to be the oldest monument on Crete, turns out to be one of its most modern. Similarly, modern artists simply reimagined many of the famous artworks in the palace taking small fragments of originals as their inspiration
On this question Einstein and Kahnweiler held diametrically opposed positions. Moreover–and this is my main interest–their respective positions correspond to successive phases in the developing neuroscientific understanding of the visual brain. Kahnweiler’s interpretation of cubism was shaped by the neuroscience of his day while, remarkably, Einstein’s account of seeing, as he believed it to be embodied in cubist paintings, anticipates by half a century a fundamental breakthrough in the neuroscientific understanding of vision.
We should give ourselves up to the lies of art to deliver ourselves from the lies of myth: it is by this very paradoxical and singular way of absorption into the framework of one of the “great works” of the Occident that Picasso belongs to myth. For if it is true that he always sought to combat myth, making him even more dependent on it, he only succeeded by turning myth’s own arms onto itself—that is, the “lie.”
Picasso’s early work—his so-called Blue Period, in the present case—responds to a concern, widespread in the symbolist milieu from which the young Picasso emerged, with authority. By authority, this essay understands one’s ability to believe in and respond to a truth as one finds it represented. In this moment, the tasks of representing truth by art and by religion found themselves in dialogue, or even, as one might say, in a relation of mutual self-definition. Charles Morice’s explanations of Eugène Carrière’s works provide the background against which to understand some of Picasso’s Blue Period works, Morice’s remarks on them, and Apollinaire’s vindication of Picasso. Their exchange raises, furthermore, important problems for those of us who write histories and interpretations of art.