Art for Facing the New Year: 2021 (Picasso)

Cher’s Famous Art

31 December 2020

Weeping Woman

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Spain, Cubism

As an old year ends–and a new one begins, I have selected Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso this week because I feel it is representative of both the old year–and the new.

We recall the horrors we faced in 2020.

We face uncertainty as we look ahead to 2021.

What will the new year look like?

Weeping Woman 1937 (oil on canvas) was taken from Picasso’s anti-war mural, Guernica. It is based on an image of a woman holding her dead child. He painted both works in response to the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Nazi Germany’s air force, in support of Spain’s Nationalist forces, carried out the attack in April 1937; hundreds of people were killed.

Who is the Weeping Woman?

Picasso based the figure of the Weeping Woman on artist and photographer Dora Maar who photographed Picasso’s making of Guernica. A photographer and painter herself, she was a major influence on his life both personally and professionally. She always felt that the portrait was more a metaphor for tragedy of the Spanish people, not a portrait of her.

It is in the collections of the Tate Museum, London. tate.org.uk

Great Artist: Picasso

Great Artists over time. Over the millennia of art, each era and century is remembered for its most famous and influential artists.  The 20th century can take the prize for having the most movements and the most diverse styles of art and artists the world has ever known. When we look back on the 20th century, I believe that Picasso, called by art critics as the King of Modern Art, will be at the top of the list.  Not only did his work span nearly the entire century (1881-1973; he drew before he could talk), it was very diverse and very prolific; he produced an estimated 50,000 works.  He introduced a number of new controversial and innovative styles that had a huge impact on the rest of the art world. 

Picasso led the forces of artistic innovation, shocking the world by introducing a new style and then moving on as soon as his unorthodoxy became accepted. The style most associated with him is Cubism where the artist broke objects into a multitude of pieces that were not actually cubes, but the name stuck. Weeping Woman falls into this genre.

Thinking and Seeing like Picasso

One of my favorite in-class activities to help students understand the thinking of Picasso better, I recruited their help. First, I’d ask a student come to the front of the class and face me (front of room) directly without moving his/her head.  I would purposely select a student that could help display my illustration: a student with long hair that could be pulled back over one ear, that didn’t mind being the center of attention!  I then asked someone to my right to tell me what they saw when they looked at the student. Answer: one eye, lips, one ear, one nose with one nostril, hair.  I’d next ask someone to my left the same question. Answer: one eye, lips, one nose with one nostril, hair—no ears. Finally, I’d ask someone looking directly at back, behind the student’s head. What did they see?  Answer: only hair.  No eyes. No Nose. No ears.  What?  I—who was looking at the front of the student—saw lots of things! From my vantage point, I saw two eyes (not one), two ears (not one), one nose with two nostrils (not one), lips, and hair.  Lesson: same subject; four different views.

So it was with Picasso.  He believed that one should not limit a 2-dimensional painting with a 2-dimensional view.  Sculpture could take the viewer to all sides; why not a painting or a drawing? He wanted to paint a 3-dimensional person/object on a 2-dimensional plane. It was that kind of thinking that kept Picasso at the cutting edge of artistic movements of the 20th century.

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