Picasso: The Context and the Clue
Updated: Feb 17, 2019
If you showed any 5-year-old around the western and developing world a 12-inch photo of a young adult woman staring blankly ahead with a lopsided smile and half a chest, they’d be able to tell you, without a doubt, that the photo before them was the Mona Lisa.
Try doing the same to some of the works of Picasso, and you get faces largely acute to the ones the late artist crafted.
The sad truth about Picasso is that he was, and is, an artistic genius who didn’t receive nearly enough credit for his worldly contributions. Picasso had the ability to transform the science of art into a mastered motif – one of poignance and self-reflection. (Don’t get me wrong, Picasso is worldly renowned, but he’s known simply as a pioneer, and not fully as a philosopher.)
Picasso had the rare ability to mold different methods of art — collage, cubism, surrealism — into a message so clear it became almost disturbing.
Case in point: La 'Joie de Vivre.'
To the wanton observer, 'Joie de Vivre' appears to be an expose´ on contentment and found happiness. The people are so overjoyed that their bodies are free; not human but animal, overjoyed with the joy of being.
(Joie de Vivre, 1946, Picasso. Picasso Museum, Antibes France)
As an individual piece, the joy of life resonates – and to many, this interpretation is a fine one. But after thoroughly examining Picasso’s extensive collection – after putting this piece in context with the rest – interpretations of la 'Joie de Vivre' and other collections might change.
Picasso’s work is largely satirical, telling of the futility of man and his relinquishing of will.
His art heeds warning to all who have become the ‘machine’ (call it modernity), and who are happy to do so, if only out of ignorance.
Picasso's work tells of the modern man who has become so far removed from his own definition of humanity that, whether man or animal, he has no way of choosing for himself. Having been so far removed from himself, he happily participates in his function in society, simply because that is what he is supposed to do. He is jolly, because he is told to be jolly; because being jolly is what the modern man does and aspires to do. But he has no recollection of happiness; he is happy without knowing what happiness means.
He disassociates himself from will and allows modernity to mold him into an object — a number or an asset; an employee, a subordinate, another cog spinning its industrial web. He is being, but only as he has been described to be.
(These 3 have faces that are happy despite being reduced to object. They smile and they are being, but do they control what they have become? )
And man chooses this life, because life says it is the path to happiness. Man does not know what happiness is, yet he has been told that he feels it. As he removes himself further away from his humanity — from human being, to animal, and object — man becomes the machine himself. He is no longer being, he is simply alive — programmed to operate in his life. And worse? He believes that he has chosen his modernity, that his will to be — if even as machine — is his will alone. He happily chooses to function blindly because his ignorance is blissful.
He is not aware of the masterful misdeed disguised as friend or beast. He is not aware of his lack of control, he is not aware of his unhappiness because it has been labeled happy.
He is of the joy of life; la joie de vivre.
Is he happy? Or is he a fool? Is his foolishness his only victory? Is he man or is he beast – does he have the will to choose?
The work of Picasso personifies itself philosopher, its subtleties and nuance acting as its most masterful component. To the tourist, Picasso is great; to the philosopher, Picasso is genius.
Those who merely look at his work become its intended subjects — they have become the fool and the object, and the machine: modernity.
Those of us who fight modernity’s futility appreciate the message – only those who will themselves human can see.
Who will you choose to be? Will you choose?
(Original works of Picasso photographed at the Picasso Museum in Antibes, France)