Atelier · October 13, 2006

Friday in the atelier: “Mandolin, Fruit Bowl, and Plaster Arm” by Pablo Picasso

Today is Friday the 13th, an unlucky day and so I think I’ll present an example of what I would consider to be a very poor painter. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973.)

I grew up learning about art from my Father, who rather liked Picasso, but who also liked a lot of realism. Dad taught me some of the basics of drawing techniques, but he was not really trained in art.

Dad lived in the museum district of Houston Texas, while Mom, Sis and I lived on the outskirts of Houston. Tanya and I would spend weekends with Dad exploring the Houston museums and zoo, most places were within easy walking distance.

I remember many happy days spent deep in the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Museum of Fine Art (especially the Law building). Sometimes I checked out the museum of Contemporary Art but didn’t usually find much to keep me occupied.

The Fine Art museum had a lot of Paul Cezanne’s works, and remember some impressionistic art too – probably Monet originals, depending on what was arranged for showing. They also had some dreadfully bad, extremely expensive ‘modern’ art. I would often laugh at some of those paintings, but I never was ‘caught’ by them. I could easily walk past them without a second glance.

Monet’s work interested me, some of Cezanne’s works caught me. But I was more interested in work by Frederic Remington because it seemed more lively and interesting.

I know that the Fine Art Museum had Picasso paintings, but I can’t for the life of me remember what they were – they didn’t catch my attention for longer than a moment.

Picasso’s works didn’t give me any joy. Except for a couple of his earlier, more realistic paintings, I don’t find his works interesting.

Picasso was trained by his father, a professor of art at the School of Crafts in Málaga, Spain. Picasso’s father specialized in the naturalistic depiction of birds, but also was able to teach his son Pablo figure drawing, painting in oil, and some academic training. Pablo never finished a college level arts degree, and dropped out of the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid.

Picasso enjoyed his life immensely. He lived what some describe as a Bohemian lifestyle, very much centered on being a successful artist. I heard it said once that everyone wants to be known as a successful author, but no one wants to actually do all that writing. Picasso lived this analogy as a successful artist who never really needed to paint or create anything better than dreck. His styles of cubism, sculptures like the abstract Chicago Picasso, etchings, abstract expressionism and neo-expressionism allowed Picasso to slap together paint or metal and call it art – and none dare say different.

Compare Picasso with William Bouguereau. Bouguereau created less than 900 exquisite paintings in his lifetime, each filled with painstaking detail, each required weeks of preparation. Picasso created 13,500 paintings in his lifetime. If we are generous, and say that he created his first painting at the age of 10, and painted until the day he died, that works out to a new painting every 2 to 3 days.

But Picasso didn’t just paint, he also created over 100,000 prints and engravings, 34,000 book illustrations, and 300 sculptures. If Picasso were continuously creative for 82 years, he would have created an astonishing 5 works of art per day. That number is probably much higher since Picasso did spend time following other pursuits. To me, this means that he probably spent a couple of hours slapping paint onto canvas as fast as he could so he could get back to his favorite passtime – being “Pablo Picasso.”

Even fans of Picasso have a hard time telling one Picasso Cubist work from another. And Picasso himself did not release all of his work, he held back and kept demand for his work high.

Picasso’s time wasn’t dominated by his art, his time was spent being a wealthy, successful, world-renown artist. He managed to elude military service during the Spanish Civil War and World Wars I and II. He acted in film, and he was a lifelong Communist.

Picasso was married twice and fathered four children by three women. He had numerous girlfriends and mistresses throughout his life, and didn’t seem to care if his wives knew or not. He started a long-term affair at the age of 46 with a 17 year-old girl and fathered a daughter with her. Picasso met and married his last wife at the age of 80. His new wife was a 27 year old divorcee.

Picasso wasn’t a great artist because he really had no interest in honing his skills – Picasso was exactly what he wanted to be. Wealthy, successful, and selfish. His last words, “Drink to me” encapsulate the philosophy of his life.