Approaches to Cubism

If Cubism intends to explicitly make 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's Soda of 1911, the teeming fragments of still-life objects (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 as well. Although Picasso never reached a degree of analysis as complex as this, both he and Braque apparently began to feel a strong urge toward clarifying their ever more diffused and labyrinthine pictorial structure, in addition to their increasingly eligible constructs of reality. With the same intellectual exhilaration that characterized the successive revolutions of 1907- 1911, Braque resolved the crisis of 1911 after Picasso by revitalizing their contact with the external world in a way that was as unexpected as it was disarmingly logical.

The crucial transformations of Cubism which occurred in 1912 made it necessary to draw a distinction between the works that precede and follow the current year. The most familiar terms of the earlier and later phases - Analytic Cubism and Synthetic Cubism - are commonly accepted today that even if some people 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 to the quality of analysis that dominates in the dissections of light, line, and plane in the works of 1909-1912. indeed, no matter how remote these works may become from appearances, they clearly depend 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. They parallel the change from the impressionists' fidelity to the 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 concerned with exploring the anatomy of nature, but rather turns to the creation of a new anatomy that is far less dependent on the data of perception. instead of reducing real objects to their abstract components, the works following 1912 appear to invent objects from very real components as pasted paper, flat patches of color, and clearly outlined planar fragments. The present process seems to be one of construction rather than analysis; hence the term synthetic.

This revolution in art was inaugurated by Picasso's Still Life with Chair Caning, which has traditionally been dated winter 1911-12, but is now dated May 1912, according to a recent conversation between Douglas Cooper and Picasso. Within the 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 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 because it is not a form of fiction created by the artist but an actual machine-made fragment from the external world. Yet, it is as false as the painted objects around it in its own terms, as it purports to be chair caning but it is only oilcloth in actuality. 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. As a final assault on the sudden outmoded conceptions about fact and illusion in art and reality, Picasso added a rope to the oval periphery of the canvas, a feature that first functions as a conventional frame to enclose a pictorial illusion, then contradicted this function by creating the illusion of decorative woodcarving on the edge of a flat surface from which these still-life objects were projected.

In the 1960s, it was observed that the relevance of a formalist analysis had narrowed due to the variety of types of modern art that emerged, and the formalist perspective was most suited to discussions of Cubism. However, many other kinds of modern art, Abstract Expressionism in particular, rendered the formalist terms of analysis less relevant. Formalism is appropriate to the discussion of Cubism because the latter "was a hermetic art for art's sake [and] depended for its success or failure on a balanced structure created by the relationship of analogous parts" (Cottington 24). Such criticism contributes to making artworks intelligible to the public and providing, as Roskill writes, "such an interested public with the clues to experiencing and interpreting the messages of new work" (Roskill 215-219). in short, the formalist criticism, contributed much to the popularization of Cubism among an audience wider than the art critics and artists themselves.

Works Cited:

Cottington, David. Cubism and Its Histories. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. Print.

Geiger, Jason and Paul Wood - eds. Art of the Twentieth Century: A Reader. Yale University Press, 2004.

Roskill, Mark. The Interpretation of Cubism. London: Associated University Presses, 1985.