In this post I am going to consider the many varied arguments of Cubism as a Revolutionary movement by many Art Historians. The Most prominent were Hans Hoffman who influenced Clement Greenberg the American Art Historian and critic who defined Cubism as the start and the defining moment of Modernism. ” What painting shares with no other art form is flatness and the fact that it addresses itself to eye sight alone”  . When I come to discuss Greenberg in a major posting I will challenge some of his assertions about Modernism. Hoffman who I am going to mention as well as influencing Greenberg influenced a number of Abstract Expressionists painters including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman and others. This is comment on the role of Cubism and other art forms that was to define Modernism. ” A work of art is plastic when its pictorial message is integrated with the picture plane”..
I am going to argue that there were two pathways to Abstraction. Firstly there was the Idealist path from Gaugin to Kandinsky , Klee and Marc and then there was the second pathway from Cezanne directly to Cubism of Braque and Picasso and then onto the Neo Plasticism of Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg with Dadaism and Surrealism in between eventually leading to Abstract Expressionism and American art which Greenberg would write about in greater detail.
Cezanne’s influence was paramount in considering Picasso and Braque’s foray into Cubism. “Cubism on the other hand was above all a formalistic art , concerned with the reappraisal and reinvention of pictorial procedures and values”. .
What the cubists did was to use the picture plane and pictorial methods to create space and above all alter the very nature of art that Cezanne had started with his landscapes and figurative art . John Golding shows how Picasso and Braque using their intellectual powers devised some very powerful depictions of the new art. ” The approach of the two original creators of the movement Picasso and Braque was its true , intuitive , but it was also deeply thoughtful and informed by a high degree of Intellectual content”..
Referring to Cezanne Golding continues ” Cezanne had been an influence on contemporary painting since the beginning of the Century”..
Picasso was concerned to show the role of three dimensional art and through Cubism develop spatial awareness and radically alter the pictorial landscape. ” Picasso approached Cubism through an interest in three Dimensional art”.
Golding shows how in technique both Braque and Picasso approached the canvass with slightly different approaches. ” Braque’s approach was more painterly , more poetic , significantly of all the Cubist Painters only he retained an interest in the evocative properties of light”. .
Cezanne’s influence was to affect Braque as well as Picasso. ” The first thing that fascinated the Cubists about Cezanne was the fact that the objects in his paintings conveyed an astonishing sense of solidity while violating all traditional systems of illusionistic procedure”. . ” Braque has put Cezanne’s methods of composition and the inconsistencies in his use of perspective to new ends”. .
Above all Braque and Picasso created space by altering the pictorial grid in a revolutionary fashion. They altered Cezanne’s paintings to create unlimited space. ” Buildings , rocks and trees are piled on top of each other rather than arranged behind each other and they generally reach the top of the canvass so that the eye is left no escape into a limitless space beyond”. .
Space was the guiding principle that Braque adopted at all times .” Space Braque was to insist over and over was his major pictorial obsession”. .
In Cubist art information was central , in fact both Braque and Picasso sought to cram as much information as they could into their paintings. ” The rejection of traditional single viewpoint , perspective was essential to Braque’s materialisation of the spatial sensations he sough to convey as it was Picasso’s desire to convey a multiplicity of information in every painted object”. .
Optically Braque wanted to make the viewer appreciate what he was doing with the multiplicity of information and always striving to create more and more space. ” It was Braque’s purpose to bring this space forward towards the spectator to invite him to explore it , to touch it optically”. .
The pictorial picture planes which Cezanne had used together with his use of space was to influence the two Cubist painters in their development of a particular style which would lead to a new form of abstraction. ” Both the use of a variable viewpoint and the realisation of a tactile use of space had been implicit in the canvasses of Cezanne”. .
The development of collage , or pasting mainly household items , writing across the surface , using woodchips and other devices used by Household decorators fascinated both Picasso and Braque.
” Picasso’s art was moving in much the same direction as Braque’s but it is characteristic that his excitement with the possibilities of a new technical idiom impelled him to push it to its most extreme conclusions, and in the summer of 1910 he produced some works which came very close to total abstraction”. .
” The means of Cubism seemed to becoming progressively more abstract”. .
Collage would be the motive force for other art forms which would emerges during and after the First World war. Dadaism had the revolutionary basis to be the weapon in the hands of the Revolutionary masses. In a later post I will consider the art of John Heartfield , Otto Dix and George Groz.
Golding continues to stress the importance of collage and what it meant for many artists developing new forms of artistic practice. I will deal in depth with collage in my final post on Cubism.
” In other words by writing across the picture surface Braque is emphasing its flatness and telling us that space existing between the letters is not an illusionistic space but a painters space designed to make tangible the spatial voids in the material world around us”. .
“” In many ways Collage was the logical outcome of cubist aesthetic and after its discovery the working methods of its two creators began to differ perceptibly although their friendship remained as close as ever.” .
This completes my consideration of Cubism and the role of its two pioneers Picasso and Braque. In my final part I will be considering the relative merits of High and low culture practised by Cubists and whether Art Historians primarily Clement Greenberg were correct in their distinction between high and low culture or High art (Modernism) Low Art (Kitsch).
1) MODERNISM .CRITICISM REALISM CHARLES HARRISON FRED ORTON PG INTRO.
2) THE NEW YORK SCHOOL A CULTURAL RECKONING :DORE ASHTON PG 83
3) CONCEPTS OF MODERN ART CUBISM JOHN GOLDING PG 51
4) DITTO PG 51
5) DITTO PG 55
6) DITTO PG 55
7) DITTO PG 55
8) DITTO PG 55
9) DITTO PG 56
10) DITTO PG 56
11) DITTO PG 57
12) DITTO PG 57
13) DITTO PG 57
14) DITTO PG 57
15) DITTO PG 60
16) DITTO PG 60
17) DITTO PG 64
18) DITTO PG 66