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Art History Minute: Cubism

Cubism is one of the first types of abstract art to emerge. It signified a deviation from a former reliance on the traditional Renaissance styles that had ruled art for the prior four decades. Cubism is a very popular abstract art style of the twentieth century that began in Paris, France. Its name comes from the geometric shapes, or cubes, that make up the works. Cubism is a reaction to the belief that art should imitate nature that was prevalence in the Renaissance. It also evolved as a response to modern technological devices that began to create images that replace painting, such as photography and cinematography. Cubists felt that they had to develop new ways to let painting represent images that would be radically different from photographs, in order to keep the craft alive. While photographs may capture a clear image, the artistic part of these images is lacking, so Cubists deviated from trying to represent the image, and instead began to explain or represent the subject being painted.

Cubists decided to emphasize the two-dimensional nature of painting by using geometric shapes to capture a concept. They also used more than one vantage point in their works, and emphasized neutral colors like grays, golds, and browns in the works. In early Cubism, the subject of the paintings could be identified, but in later Cubism, called Analytic Cubism, the painting was a series of overlapping shapes and images based on a still life subject. In some works, the subject cannot be seen, but it is simply suggested with fragments. In later Cubism, more color was added, along with more textures and graphic elements. While primarily a painting style, Cubism also influenced music, sculpture, and even architecture.

Pablo Picasso is perhaps the most famous of the cubist painters, but others are Fernand Leger, Diego Rivera, and Marcel Duchamp. Georges Braque, although not as familiar as Picasso, was also one of the first Cubists. These artists’ works are easily recognized by most people, and represent abstract art to many viewers. The Cubists influenced the movements of Dadaism and Surrealism, variations of abstract art that evolved later.

Picasso, one of the most well-known artists of any period in art history, was the son of an art professor. He received training in traditional art styles at an early age, and he began creating works of art by age 12. Soon after he completed his study of traditional art, he began to experiment with revolutionary art styles.  His first works were known as his Blue period, as many of the works were painted in shades of cold blues and greens. The subjects of this period were often street people, such as beggars and prostitutes. Later he evolved into his Rose period, where he used shades of pinks and reds in his work. His subjects at this time were often circus performers and clowns in empty landscapes. The somewhat bizarre images of this period led to his development of the abstract style of painting. It was at this time, that Cubism became his style, along with that of Braque. They are considered co-founders of Cubism.