Posted in Art and Artists, Research & Reflection

Looking at Cubism

After the Coursera modern art videos I’ve stayed subscribed to the MoMA YouTube channel, and this video on painting like Picasso caught my eye.

How to paint like Pablo Picasso (Cubism) | IN THE STUDIO

The video starts out considering how to view a cubist painting, in this case “analytical cubism”, and how they are constructed. In essence the picture plane of a cubist painting tries to portray multiple viewing angles at the same time. In “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, for example, the still life near the bottom is clearly from the top – whereas the ladies provide a frontal view.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, and originally titled The Brothel of Avignon), From

The picture plane is like a piece of shattered glass, and the whole avoids realism and provides little sense of depth.  The girl with mandolin takes this even further, with many more shards. The shading on the shards can be used to consider the viewpoint from which each is being painted.

1910, Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier), oil on canvas, 100.3 × 73.6 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York, from

The “Analytical cubism” refers to the analysis of space that the painting style is based on. The video notes that it is possible that the style is, in effect, a reaction to photography. At this point realism based painting is competing with photography, which makes it much less interesting. This is an effect I’ve considered and commented on previously.

The video goes on to show the instructor painting a cubist painting, with a narrative around cubism as it goes along. He considers the influence of Cezanne providing a lens of geometry to interpret nature, as well as considering the toned down palette used by the cubists.

The major take away for myself, however, is starting to find a way to make a cubist image accessible. A way to start to interpret these “shattered glass” images, and to consider what the artist was trying to achieve.

Note: The featured image isn’t mentioned in the video and is “1911, Still Life with a Bottle of Rum, oil on canvas, 61.3 × 50.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York” from

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