Picasso and Poetry

Pablo Picasso: Seated Bather, 1930
Pablo Picasso: Seated Bather, 1930, MOMA

Recently, we visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. We climbed directly to the paintings and sculpture on the fourth and fifth floors, and then visited the amazing installation pieces living in the special exhibition galleries. Sunboy loved it, and I loved talking with him about the pieces.

It’s funny how a work of art can mean different things each time it’s viewed, and perhaps this is part of the nature of art. Since the artwork doesn’t change over time, it must be the viewer that is changing. The art acts like a mirror or an intimate friend, whispering secrets.

Pablo Picasso: Head of a Woman, 1932, and Interior with a Girl Drawing, 1935. MOMA
Pablo Picasso: Head of a Woman, 1932, and
Interior with a Girl Drawing, 1935. MOMA

I’ve loved Picasso’s work since high school (oh too many years ago to mention) but its meaning has changed for me over time. This time, his cubist and surrealist paintings and sculptures struck me as a physical representation of poetry. I’m not suggesting this representation was Picasso’s specific intent, but I thought perhaps the “openness” of these pieces was.

Picasso’s seemingly displaced facial and bodily features is, to me, a reduction of the essential elements of the subject (I think of Matisse’s later work in a similar way). More simply, perhaps what appears to be a haphazard placement of nose and eye and breast and arm are the “parts” we perceive separately when we interact with an individual, and it’s those “parts” that comprise our mental image of a person rather than a visualization of a contiguous being. Maybe Picasso was painting and sculpting: the parts that comprise a whole, viewed singly but presented as a composite in the art form.

"Pablo Picasso" "Three Musicians" 1921
Pablo Picasso: Three Musicians, 1921, MOMA

This time when I viewed Picasso, this interpretation went deeper as these “parts” seemed analogous to poetic elements. The “telling not showing” of poetry that allows the reader to make their own connections. Poetry, to me, often leaves space between the words to be filled with meaning, just like Picasso left space between structural elements in his work to be filled with being.

Picasso was a representation of poetry for me in my recent viewing, only it was a poetry without words.

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