"Forgive me, but it seems to me you're in a muddle," said Mr. Emerson to Miss Honeychurch in E.M. Forster's A Room With a View.
"I am using your latest papery and powdery procedures. I am in the process of imagining a guitar and I am using a bit of dust against our horrible canvas." Pablo Picasso, in a letter to George Braque, 1912
Pablo Picasso died in France in the spring of 1973. I was a young child, but I recall my mother showing me his work and talking about this creative genius. Her hero-worship affected me, and the artist rose even higher on that pedestal when my elementary school art teachers chose him for our studies. Looking back, they probably found Picasso more accessible to young students than the more lofty Abstract Expressionism of the day, as typified by artists like Motherwell and de Kooning. (Pop Art, as far as I can tell, was either not yet understood or not yet taken seriously enough to be worthy of the classroom).
Rather than discourage me, these criticisms made me more curious, and I poured through my mother’s books searching for the answers --- hoping to train my own eye to see the master’s downfall in his artwork.
And finally, why is it that I would give up all my worldly possessions to own a simple Picasso drawing when even I, who can’t so much as draw a daisy, could probably produce a fair copy?
It was during this time that art took on specific meanings for me. I became an art snob in my circle-of-one. I gained freedom of thought, and I dared to look at art in my own way.
Picasso’s whole life --- the Blue Period, Cubism, the African paintings, and so much more --- is inside his simplest works. Had he painted them all at age nineteen, they would mean nothing. But at age ninety, they mean everything. The fact that he probably painted some in a matter of minutes or that second grade students everywhere can duplicate some of his most abstracted designs is irrelevant.
I asked George about Picasso, and he pulled a well-worn book, Goodbye Picasso, (by David Douglas Duncan, Grosset & Dunlap, 1974) from the shelf, turned to a bookmarked page and said:
“I remember how messy his house was, and I was so impressed.”
He also describes an art school assignment at the Art Center College of Design, in which he was ‘to create a painting in the style of an old master.’ George chose a guitar and collage, ala Picasso. (pictured on top, a Picasso "Guitar" from 1912; below, Rodrigue's "Guitar" from 1965)
I’ve told George for years that he’s Picasso in many classrooms --- not the same artist and not the same talent, but a similar inspiration to what I recall from my own school years. It’s all so familiar (and somewhat unsettling), as though I’ll look up at my mother’s books and see “Rodrigue” not on a shiny new book, but on the worn-out titles and the plastic-covered jackets. (It’s the same eerie feeling I had at the New Orleans Museum of Art, where their memorabilia room held George’s various personal items --- the same things I see everyday in our house).
Again, I’m comparing the two artist’s situations, not their actual artwork. Also, keep in mind that one coveted the world’s approval, while the other hoped for the approval of his artistic peers in his home state.
"It took me a whole lifetime to learn how to draw like a child again." - Pablo Picasso