Monday, February 28, 2011

A Brief Personal Essay Inspired By An Incident At the Virginia Museum

Re: Picasso: Masterpieces From the Musee National Picasso, Paris
February 15 - May 15, 2011
VMFA (Virginia Museum Of the Fine Arts)
Richmond, Virginia

I don't like Picasso.  His household word status has given him complete immunity - a bill of health that will ensure that his immortal soul continues to circulate our globe of consciousness till the end of time.
Perhaps I overstate the matter.  So be it.  In the hyperbolic universe that surrounds All Things Picasso, it's just breezy patter.

I doubt if I even see this exhibit.  I don't care to jostle for viewing space among people who are looking for an icon buzz, a frisson of celebrity, a glimpse of greatness that will get them through a day that does not include American Idol.  I don't want to get all sweaty trying to jump high enough to see bits and pieces of things whose bank-busting entirety isn't worth the strain.

No, I don't like Picasso.  He knew art was a shell-game and he played it to the hilt.  He was obscenely competitive and won more than he lost.  If art has a Last Painter Standing, Picasso's your man. 
I suppose we should credit him for surviving the numerous culture wars that have rained down upon us.  He's, after all, a great polarizing force.  You either love him or you hate him.  He hangs the moon or he languishes in the cellar.  He appeals to your sense of adventure or he breaks the bank of your native conservatism. 

Having been a celebrity since Day One, he's suited to our age.  His love affairs were as numerous as we'd want them to be.  His productivity suits the path of genius.  And his ego was suitably gargantuan.  He's everything a celebrity artist should be.  And we love him for it.  And we hate him for it.  And we keep on arguing about whether he was a fraud or a creator such as the world had never - no, has never - seen.
Shall I say it again?  I guess I don't have to.  But it's fun.  Let me, in fact, create a sort of blackboard epiphany.

I hate Picasso
I hate Picasso
I hate Picasso

You should try it; it's downright cathartic.

Saying you hate someone is, however, not really enough to induce somebody else to hate him with you.  All right.  Let me tell you why I hate him.

For one, Picasso takes up way too much space in the collective imagination.  I wouldn't mind if he just had his share.  But, no, Picasso is still synonymous, nearly a hundred and thirty years after his birth, with artistic genius.  "Hey, Picasso!" people say to me as I paint my pictures in the open air.  If they only knew.  Picasso never, as far as I can tell, painted a picture from life.  Everything he did - after a certain period - he did from his head.  Now, this would suggest that Picasso was endowed with an imagination that took mere reality and metamorphosed it into a private symbolism.  I wouldn't argue with that, but these private symbols aren't really that interesting.  After he gets out of the academy and comes to Paris, he paints some clumsy pictures of nudes and such.  And he makes them monochromatic.  They are his Blue Period.  Then he roams the countryside of his imagination and does a series of traveling players.  I like these pictures a lot - they're the exception that proves the rule.  They're the small thing you like about the Big Thing you hate.  Then. . .there was Cubism - decorative painting that has been overblown absurdly.  I think these pictures would make excellent quilts.  And, by cracky, they have.  And they look pretty good that way.  As quilts.  As paintings, they're mildly interesting exercises in pseudo-planar geometry.  Then our global genius goes off into all sorts of directions: African masks, Greek statues, and I don't know what all.  Toward the end of his life, he makes a series of fairly poignant etchings about growing older.  For these, he appoints a minotaur as a stand-in.  Is it a minotaur?  No matter.  It looks suitably mythological.  This minotaur is losing the battle every warrior fights in vain.  He can't find his game anymore and it's killing his soul as well as a visibly deteriorating body.  He's consumed with lust, but can't gratify it like he used to.  He's a man's minotaur who's gonna have to find his pasture whether he likes it or not.  In these, Picasso made a personal statement and it sticks.  But great artists do this sort of thing all the time.  Picasso waited till the end of his life.  In betweentimes, he left us with a boatload of clever stunts, for which he was magnificently remunerated and universally admired.  And inconceivably famous.

Do I still hate Picasso?  You better bloody well believe it.  He screwed around most of his life - both on the picture plane and on Eros' day-bed - he made tons of money, and he's the most famous artist of all time. 

How could I not hate him?  He has everything I don't and I don't think he earned it. I also hate him because I don't ordinarily like to get personal.  And he's made me cross that line.  (Yes, mom; Picasso made me do it.)  Ordinarily, I hate artists who are are infatuated with themselves when, in fact, they're unspeakbly bad.  I hate Picasso because he lived the sort of life no man, no artist, no-body really should have a right to live.  Certainly not nobody who was more ambitious than talented.   

Repeat after me, everyone:

I hate Picasso
I hate Picasso
I hate Picasso



  1. Do you hate Van Gogh as well?

  2. Very funny Brett. I had no idea.

    Just between you and me, I never liked him either. Not hate, but significant dislike with a tinge of indifference.

  3. Brett! I knew this was you before I got to the bottom. Found you through searching for an image of the VMFA's Tooker.