We have apparently strayed from the subject of Picasso, but it is by showing other artists in their essential reality that we can arrive at a determination of how far this strange spirit differs from them. It is by showing how we can rationalize the careers of other artists that we discover Picasso's refusal to allow his to be rationalized and consequently the peculiar nature of his career.
The German metaphysician Georg Simmel imagined two " styles of existence " : the systematic style, which satisfies our need for regularity and symmetry and which might be represented by the circle: and the progressive style which follows a straight line leading to infinity, never satisfied with its acquisitions. The work of the great French masters Ingres, Cézanne, La Fresnaye, belong to the systematic style. It is self-contained and appears logical and harmonious. And each time that it rebounds on a given or selected model, this only serves the better to express its own homogeneity by means of a plagiarism or an opposition.
We must go to the opposite pole of this mental universe in order to find the most marvellous example of the progressive style in the art of Picasso.His mind proceeds in a straight line, or rather in a series of straight lines, — in broken lines. He too, being a civilized man, chooses his references, his points of departure or of contrast, in the immense repertoire of existing styles, but without ever seeking to compose a complete and logical image of himself out of these diverse inspirations. For he did not set out on this adventure with a thought about himself. He had no set purpose. He is reported to have said : " I do not seek, I find. " This saying, whether true or not, expresses his attitude. He never goes back, he never loops the loop. His course carries him onward continually. Every one of the inspirations he has found or encountered, that of Toulouse-Lautrec or Ingres, or the Negroes, has only the value of a hypothesis taken on the chance, like those combinations which the chemists call " experiments to see. " Cubism, which was the supreme form of his order for La Fresnaye, was a hypothesis like any other for Picasso, quite arbitrary, carried to the full extent of its possibilities and then rejected.
After each of these experiments, the genius of Picasso appears to renew itself without accretions or loss and to be ready to embark on a new field of investigation. These are not the stages of an asceticism or a conquest, but so many heterogenous stages, each of which might have appeared in another succession. Time is one of the factors in the work of a classical genius and it was only at the end of his life that Cézanne achieved the Bathers and the old Ingres painted Le Barn Turc. I should like to imagine that it would be possible to change the chronology of the different periods of Picasso's art without altering their significance and that just as this art is a rejection of space, it also escapes from the category of time.
Picasso accomplishes sudden leaps and enters into a hypothetical universe, which is a realization of what certain German philosophers call an als ob, an as if. For example it is as though the evolution of human sculpture since its beginning had never known anything but the rules of African art to the exclusion of all other possible forms. Or as though art were confined to the representation of a world without figures, a strictly metaphysical world. He fills this enclosed system entirely, and expands fully, having brought nothing with him and taking nothing away again. These successive lines of thought will never integrate, they will never contribute to form what might and ought — according to classical aesthetics — to be Picasso as a whole, the truth and order of Picasso, because for that he would have to have a memory.
Outside the category of time Picasso has no memory. He has been Picasso in each of the universes he passed through, and he will be completely himself in a last universe, but not in a final agreement of these universes between themselves ; for he dies in each one in order to be resuscitated in the next.
I said that Picasso had no ethical concerns. It would be more correct to say that his ethics were of a special kind. In place of the artisan ethics of all his perpetual disciples — humble, admirable disciples, artists of the classical order, his ethics are baroque and Spanish, and might be described as heroic. The hero has no memory and does not try to project himself as an image of a continuous personality: he asserts himself by sudden explosive acts, which break the continuity of his personal conscience and in which he forgets himself. This is one of the points at which Picasso may be linked with Gongora, alma heroica, as he was superbly called by one of his commentators in his own day.
For the classical artisan, art consists of methods. Picasso dreams of assimilating painting to that very rare form of thought, which consists in leaping above methods and appears only in certain lightning moments of scientific inspiration, perhaps also of religious and mystic inspiration. Even the mystics themselves often employ technique and method in their ascetic exercises. Anyway his art, like that of El Greco, approaches this form of thought.
Our need for logic and unity, which is satisfied by defining certain related things, — a certain quid, — by the name of Cézanne or that of Ingres, is violently shocked by Picasso, who presents so many dissimilar things in a monstrously unclassifiable succession, which we have to assemble under one name. There is no name for disorder, yet here it bears a very illustrious, irrefutable one. It is the effect of a conscience, a durable will, pursuing its exercise with prodigious constancy.
How can we conceive of a conscience, which denies itself continually ? What is the significance of a thought, which does not recognize itself in any of the mirrors, where it is reflected ? Ingres, Cézanne, La Fresnaye, or many another, who might be studied from this point of view, construct their own identity, by confronting one another. We admire this imperious fatality of their identity. Baudelaire called this fatality the Fixed Idea. How powerfully this Fixed Idea appears in them ! For these men imitation was as brilliant a way of asserting themselves as contradiction. It was by accepting the influence of others that, according to Matisse, they showed their sincerity.
But this other man, who accepts the same tests, triumphs in another way, emerging each time under a different aspect. He is always different and therein lie his art, his aspect, his style, his Fixed Idea, that which we call his fidelity to himself. But what is himself ? How does he bear these lacerations ? How does Picasso agree with Picasso ? That is a problem, the study of which would go beyond aesthetics into the domain of psychology and would lead us towards the most human mysteries of creative genius. It would be no longer the problem of a man's relation to his art, but of his relation to himself; consequently of a man, who though apparently the cleverest and most brilliant artist of his age is at the same time more than an artist. We should have to conceive of an artist, who would be above his art or at any rate a stranger to it. The comparison which we have indicated between Picasso's intellectual progress and that of certain thinkers or certain mystics will perhaps enable us to familiarize ourselves with this idea.
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
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