HB2LDd'A (or, An Excuse to Revisit Modernism) Open Thread
I would love to spend all day drawing the lines from 1907, at which point, apparently, in order to regain sight of the act of creation, subject matter was shoved to the back burner of importance, to today, where we find a fierce insistence in certain quarters that subject matter regain the central position in visual art (i.e., that art be "about" something, especially something relevant to everyday life, again), but, alas, I'm pressed for time.
Most of all, this is a painting about looking. Picasso looks back at you in the central figure, whose bold gaze out of huge asymmetrical eyes has the authority of a self-portrait. It's interesting that we're trained to see transvestite self-portraits in the art of Leonardo or Marcel Duchamp, but it doesn't often occur to us to understand this painting in that way, misled as we are by the caricatures of Picasso as a patriarchal voyeur. What he painted in 1907 is a work of art that looks back at you with furious contempt.
What struck Picasso about African masks was the most obvious thing: that they disguise you, turn you into something else - an animal, a demon, a god. Modernism is an art that wears a mask. It does not say what it means; it is not a window but a wall. Picasso picked his subject matter precisely because it was a cliche: he wanted to show that originality in art does not lie in narrative, or morality, but in formal invention. This is why it's misguided to see Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as a painting "about" brothels, prostitutes or colonialism. The great, lamentable tragedy of 18th- and 19th-century art, compared with the brilliance of a Michelangelo, had been to lose sight of the act of creation. That's what Picasso blasts away. Modernism in the arts meant exactly this victory of form over content.
Don't let that stop you from having a go at it though....