Woman Plaiting her Hair 1906
“That’s not art.”
“A child could paint that.”
“I don’t get it.”
Without the context of Pablo Picasso’s earlier works, his later experimentation and innovation with cubism seems arbitrary, childlike, and even unskilled. Even I, as a youngster, professed a dislike for Picasso’s unorthodox portraits, insisting I “only liked the classics, the renaissance painters and Greco-Roman sculptors. And Edgar Degas, because of the ballerinas.” Pretension loses it’s charm after some time, though, and after some study of Picasso’s work, following him from his earlier blue period, to his rose and then cubist, he certainly has skill, but also an element of wonder in his artwork, an obvious striving for some kind of truth to be appreciated in his painting. Picasso, like other post-impressionistic painters delved into conversation about what art really was. Is art simply a reproduction of the aesthetic of reality? Is it pure thought and white walls? Is it in architecture? Is it embracing the new, and rejecting convention? Picasso’s work expresses an idea that art is personal. His paintings are deeply entwined with his own life, and express his own sadness and turmoil, his own questions or his own joy.
There is something at peace about this painting. Though it’s a hodgepodge of inspiration from Picasso’s own work and his contemporaries’ works it feels like something entirely different. I spent minutes in the MoMa finding Picasso’s Rose period in the woman’s expressionlessness, his proto-cubist artwork in the Iberian art-inspired face and in the tension between foreground and background. But what I found to be special is that this painting belies no realistic aesthetic, nor does it embody any great idea, but it translates a very real, very personal scene living in the mind of Pablo Picasso. It’s a looking glass into the mind and heart of the artist. It lives in the MoMa among Picasso’s peers who also strove for their own artistic truth, artists who saw art as a means for Utopia, for the highest thinking. Picasso’s work teaches us that sometimes the very best way to see the way of the whole entire world and to define great concepts like art and love and good or bad is to look closely at something individual. Picasso’s work is a celebration of the individual. Woman Plaiting her Hair, as well as Picasso’s later cubist, “childlike,” “unskilled” paintings celebrate an individual. I would venture to say that your child couldn’t do that with a pack of crayolas.