I’m sure this gentleman meant no harm. He gleefully shared a lot of information with me about traditional painting technique in a short twenty minutes. Thing is, I didn’t remember a word. What I did remember, what marinated in my head for years was the thought, “Picasso couldn’t paint.” Well I wondered, why is he so rich and successful and revered by so many? I didn’t dwell on it very long; it was simple enough to realize that “he just couldn’t paint.” That had to be a true fact because an excellent painter, who clearly knows a lot more about painting than me, told me it was so. From time to time, over the years, I have run into this very same idea expressed in many ways in my beloved world of representational painting. Old myths die hard.
Another time and place, I was discussing painting, art, and art history with a friend; an art professor. This man had made his entire life about the pursuit of art. He was a painter, a reader, a teacher and a thinker.
He himself had been a product of mid-20th century art education. Many of his ideas and thoughts would be anathema to some fellow painters pursuing classical realism. I pushed him on the work of Picasso. He explained to me what he thought and knew about Picasso. In desperation to feel better about my own direction, I blurted out, “Yeah, well, Picasso couldn’t really paint.” He looked at me, exasperated, but gently said, “Michael, Picasso was a creative genius.” That stayed with me awhile. After all, we are always told in pursuing representational painting to “learn our craft', master the skills and the tools, and THEN go forth and create.” So I put down my limited palette, crawled out of my dimly lit studio, and started to read. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across Picasso’s early paintings, some of which are shown below.
Now, I don’t put these works on the same level as Titian or Bouguereau. Consider the first painting, Picasso’s portrait of his Mother made in 1896. Clearly it is technically better than some representational painters work of today, not as strong as others. Weighing the fact he was all of fifteen years old when he painted it, I’ll forgive him. I’ve often wondered if Picasso had decided to pursue representational painting(say classicism for example) to his fullest capability, would he have out Bouguereau’d Bouguereau? We will never know. Pablo Picasso decided to go in other directions, to explore other visual experiences.
Could Picasso paint? My eyes tell me yes. It is a question easily resolved. The far harder questions for me are; why did he choose the other paths he did? What was he exploring? What did he find? HOW can I use any knowledge he uncovered for my own pursuit of visual art?