If Cubism wished to make explicit the means by which nature becomes art, then the growing complication of Cubist syntax in 1911 must have threatened the balance between dependence upon nature and autonomy of art. For example, in Braque circular Soda of 1911 the teeming fragments of still-life objects 35 (which appear to include a wineglass, a pipe, a sheet of music, and the label SODA) have become so intricate that not only the composition itself but its references to the external world are dangerously obscured.
Although Picasso never reached so complex a degree of analysis as this, both he and Braque apparently began to feel a strong urge toward clarifying their ever more diffuse and labyrinthine pictorial structure and their increasingly illegible constructs of reality. With the same intellectual exhilaration that characterized the successive revolutions of 1907-11, first Picasso and then Braque resolved the crisis of 1911 by revitalizing their contact with the external world in a way that was as unexpected as it was disarmingly logical.
This revolution in picture making was inaugurated by Picasso Still Life with Chair Caning, which has 36 traditionally been dated winter 1911-12, but is now dated, according to a recent conversation between Douglas Cooper and Picasso, May 1912. Here, within this small and unpretentious assemblage of the letters JOU (from Le Journal), a pipe, glass, knife, lemon, and scallop shell, another fundamental tradition of Western painting has been destroyed. Instead of using paint alone to achieve the appearance of reality, Picasso has pasted a strip of oilcloth on the canvas. This pasting or, to use the now familiar French term, collage, is perhaps even more probing in its commentary on the relation between art and reality than any of such earlier Cubist devices as trompe-l'oeil or printed symbols, since the result now involves an even more complex paradox between "true" and "false."
The oilcloth is demonstrably more "real" than the illusory Cubist still-life objects, for it is not a fiction created by the artist but an actual machine-made fragment from the external world. Yet, in its own terms, it is as false as the painted objects around it, for it purports to be chair caning but is only oilcloth. To enrich this irony, the most unreal Cubist objects seem to have a quality of true depth, especially the trompe-l'oeil pipe stem, which is rendered even more vivid by juxtaposition with the flatness of the trompe-l'oeil chair caning below. And, as a final assault on our suddenly outmoded conceptions about fact and illusion in art and reality, Picasso has added a rope to the oval periphery of the canvas, a feature that first functions as a conventional frame to enclose a pictorial illusion and then contradicts this function by creating the illusion of decorative woodcarving on the edge of a flat surface from which these still-life objects project.
Perhaps the greatest heresy introduced in this collage concerns Western painting's convention that the artist achieve his illusion of reality with paint or pencil alone. Now Picasso extends his creative domain to materials that had previously been excluded from the world of canvas or paper and obliges these real fragments from a nonartistic world to play surprisingly unreal roles in a new artistic world. Moreover, this destruction of the traditional mimetic relationship between art and reality becomes even more emphatic by the very choice of a material that in itself offers a deception. For here Picasso mocks the illusions painstakingly created by the artist's hand by rivaling them with the perhaps more skillful illusions impersonally stamped out by a machine. If the reality of art is a relative matter, so, too, is the reality of this seemingly real chair caning, which is actually oilcloth.
The close interchange of ideas between Picasso and Braque and the still very disputable dates traditionally assigned to many works of this period make it difficult to establish any secure chronological priority in the various innovations of collage. Generally, however, it is claimed that in his drawn and pasted 37 Fruit Dish of September 1912, Braque was the first to initiate papier collé (pasted paper), a term that refers specifically to the use of paper fragments as opposed to the more inclusive term collage. In any case, Braque Fruit Dish continues that complex juggling of fact and illusion which makes Picasso earlier Still Life with Chair Caning so compelling to the eye and the intellect.
Again, as in Picasso's collage, the true elements pasted into the picture are even falser than the drawn fiction of the Cubist still life, for they are strips of wallpaper simulating the grain of oak. Once more, these fragments of reality are made to perform roles even more unreal than those implied by their simple function as decorative facsimiles of wood, of the kind Braque had long been familiar with through his early training as a house painter (peintre-décorateur). Thus, Braque uses the same artificial wood to suggest, in the horizontal strip below, the drawer of the table upon which are placed the central fruit bowl (with a bunch of grapes and an apple) and the goblet at the right; and, in the vertical strips above, to suggest the wall of the café whose milieu is evoked by the letters BAR and ALE. Nor does this Cubist confounding of identities stop here, for we may go on to still another ambiguity and question whether the illusory café wall created by the pasted wallpaper is supposed to represent real or artificial wood paneling.
Exactly the same kind of paradoxical sequence obtains in a comparable collage still life (or, to be precise, papier collé) executed by Picasso in the winter of 1912-13. Here the cut-up fragments of the daily newspaper are magically revitalized in the unexpected environment of a Cubist drawing. The presence of the newspaper in the still-life arrangement is explicitly stated by the word JOURNAL, which rests on the table, but the other clippings proceed to still more surprising adventures. The siphon on the left, for example, which we would expect to be transparent, is made of the opaque newspaper, whereas the violin at the right, which we would expect to be opaque, seems so incorporeal that the newspaper can be read right through the scroll and pegs. And if the goblet in the center at first appears to share the violin's transparency, it might well, by analogy with the siphon, be made of the same opaque newspaper. In the same way, the laws of gravity are turned topsy-turvy.
The glass objects -- the siphon and goblet -would in reality appear less weighty than the wooden violin, yet, in the context of this new aesthetic realm, their newsprint substance makes them seem much heavier. And, by the same token, the most earthbound object in the picture, the table, is rendered as the most air-borne ghost of an outline, whose wooden texture, like the violin's, is symbolized only by a small brown pasting on its periphery. So pervasive are these transformations that no detail is left unambiguous. Thus, the two sound holes are not only radically different in size and shape but appear to be solids floating in a void rather than voids cut through a solid. Moreover, the four strings of the violin emerge as five on the other side of the bridge, conforming to the general, though hardly unbroken, rule in most Cubist representations of stringed instruments: that in the Cubist re-creation the number of strings of the real instrument changes. Thus, the six strings of a guitar are generally reduced to four or five, and the four strings of a mandolin to three. Similarly, the five lines of the music staff are almost invariably transformed to three or four. Indeed, a neglect of such thoroughgoing mutations can often be considered a telling indication of a lesser Cubist artist.
If collage, with its material references to nonartistic realities, acted as an antidote to the growing illegibility of so many Cubist works of 1911, it nevertheless enriched considerably the paradoxes involved in the Cubist dialectic between art and reality. It effected, moreover, a profound reorganization of the very structure of Cubist painting. In the first place, the size of these clippings is now larger than those increasingly small and diffuse pictorial units of 1911, and therefore begins to establish a simpler and more readily grasped pattern of fewer and bolder shapes. Thus, in opposition to the painted works preceding them, these early collages are compositionally lucid and extremely restricted in the number of their pictorial elements.
But, more important still, the technique of pasting so strongly emphasizes the two-dimensional reality of the picture surface that even the few vestiges of traditional illusionism clinging to earlier Cubist painting -- the vibrant modeling in light and dark, the fragmentary diagonals that create a deceptive space -- could not survive for long. Rapidly, the luminous shimmer and the oblique disposition of planes in earlier Cubism were to be replaced by a new syntax in which largely unshaded planes were to be placed parallel to the picture surface. In the case of actual collage, the placement was quite literally on top of the opaque picture surface, thereby controverting another fundamental principle of Western painting since the quattrocento, if not earlier -- namely, that the picture plane was an imaginary transparency through which an illusion was seen.
This reorientation of Cubist structure can be suggested in comparing, for example, the two previously discussed collages by Picasso and Braque. The still complex fragmentation into overlapping, shaded planes in the Braque of September 1912 yields in the Picasso of winter 1912-13 to a much simpler analysis. Thus, the goblet in the Picasso, while retaining a remnant of shading at its right, is composed of few and easily legible shapes. The rim of the goblet is no longer seen as a structure of many interpenetrating oblique arcs but rather as a complete and flattened circle. Its clear, pure geometry is elegantly balanced by the printed rectangle in the newspaper above; by the drawn parallelogram intersecting it directly below; by the floating trapezoid capping the siphon at the upper left; and by the delicately drawn arc defining the lower contour of the violin at the bottom right.
Besides contributing such stylistic clarifications, collage stimulated an even greater consciousness of the independent reality of pictorial means than had been achieved in earlier Cubism. In these drawn and pasted pictures there is a new and radical dissociation of the outlines defining an object and the textured or colored area (represented by the pasted papers) traditionally filling these shapes. Now, the contours of objects seem to function in counterpoint, as it were, to their textured or colored substance, so that the previously inseparable elements of line, texture, and color suddenly have independent existences. This phenomenon, although adumbrated in paintings of 1910-11, had never reached the autonomy of separate pictorial means so explicitly defined in collage.
This examination of the aesthetic substance itself, which heretofore had been disguised in order to produce the illusion of reality, is not unique to Cubist art. To choose analogies from the theater, one is reminded of such a play as Luigi Pirandello Six Characters in Search of an Author ( 1921), in which the startling objectification of characters, stage manager, and scenery offers a comparable insistence on the means that produce a dramatic illusion rather than on the illusion itself. And in an earlier example, a similar shuffling of dramatic fiction and the humdrum realities of dramatic production is found in Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss' opera Ariadne auf Naxos ( 1912; revised 1916).
The crucial transformations of Cubist style that occurred in 1912 make it necessary to draw a distinction between works that precede and works that follow this year. The most familiar terms for the earlier and the later phases -- Analytic Cubism and Synthetic Cubism -- are so commonly accepted today that, even if one were to cavil at their precision, they are no more likely to be abandoned or replaced than the far more imprecise name of Cubism itself.
The term Analytic Cubism is perhaps the more accurately descriptive of the two. It refers explicitly to the quality of analysis that dominates the searching dissections of light, line, and plane in the works of 1909-12. Indeed, no matter how remote from appearances these works may become, they nevertheless depend quite clearly on a scrutiny of the external world that, at times, is almost as intense as that of the Impressionists. By contrast, the works that follow have a considerably less objective character, and suggest far more arbitrary and imaginative symbols of the external world. In this they parallel the change from the Impressionists' fidelity to objective visual fact in the 1870s to the Post-Impressionists' more subjective and symbolic constructs of reality in the late 1880s. Ostensibly, Synthetic Cubism is no longer so concerned with exploring the anatomy of nature, but turns rather to the creation of a new anatomy that is far less dependent upon the data of perception. Instead of reducing real objects to their abstract components, the works following 1912 appear to invent objects from such very real components as pasted paper, flat patches of color, and clearly outlined planar fragments. The process now seems to be one of construction rather than analysis; hence the term synthetic.
Although this convenient classification of the creative processes before and after 1912 may be applicable to many works, it can also be somewhat misleading in its implication that after 1912 there is an aboutface in the Cubists' relation to nature. It is certainly true that many Synthetic Cubist drawings and paintings after 1912 offer a capricious rearrangement of reality that would be impossible in the Analytic phase. However, it must be stressed that this presumed independence of nature is more often of degree than of kind. As will be shown, the post-1912 works of Picasso, Braque, and other Cubists often depend on as close a scrutiny of the data of perception as did the pre-1912 works, however different the results may seem. Without this contact with the external world, Cubism's fundamental assertion that a work of art is related to but different from nature could not be made; for there would be no means of measuring the distance traversed between the stimulus in reality and its pictorial re-creation.
It is probably more meaningful, then, to think of Synthetic Cubism, not primarily in terms of a dubious reversal of the Cubists' relation to nature, but, rather, in terms of a demonstrable reorganization of Cubist pictorial structure. Now illusionistic depth is obliterated by placing the newly enlarged and clarified pictorial elements -- line, plane, color, texture -- parallel to and, by implication, imposed upon the two-dimensional truth of the canvas or paper. Beginning in 1912, the work of Picasso and Braque -and ultimately, most major painting of our century -- is based on the radically new principle that the pictorial illusion takes place upon the physical reality of an opaque surface rather than behind the illusion of a transparent plane. As will be indicated later, even Picasso's most overtly sculptural paintings from his Neo-Classic period are not exempt from this generalization.
Pablo Picasso, Cubism, Pablo Picasso Biography, Picasso Paintings, Picasso Drawings, The Blue Nude, Don Quixote, Enamel Saucepan, Evening Flowers, Femme A La Fleur, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Spanish Art, The Dream, The Pigeons, Guernica, Musse, Bull with Bullfighter, Mediterranean Landscape, Nude and Still Life, Toros y Toreros, Mother and Child, Girl with Red Beret, Frau Mit Turban, The Bathers, The Lesson, The Old Guitarist, Three Bathers, Violin and Guitar, Lovers, Evening Flowers, The Kitchen