Arthur C. Danto, Jonathan Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Columbia University, and art critic, The...
After shattering representational tradition through cubism, which he developed with Georges Braque, Picasso became the artistic visionary against whom most others measured their creativity throughout the twentieth century.
Born in Malaga in 1881, the son of an artist, Picasso attended art schools in his native Spain and in his late teens aligned his sensibilities with bohemian writers and artists in Barcelona and Madrid who opposed Spain’s stalled social hierarchies and conservative culture.
After early work inspired by international models—the anguished, attenuated figures of El Greco, the dark, moody outlines of symbolism, and the sinuous curvatures of Art nouveau to name a few—Picasso began to find his own vision. The art he made in the decade between 1905 - 1915 unleashed a torrent of originality—Rose and Blue Period pieces that probe the emotional depths of his personal experiences and identity; mask-like portraits and heavily faceted nudes that translate classical and primal aspects of ancient, Iberian, and African cultures, culminating in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907; and the cubist and collage works which, in their fragmentation of illusionism, delivered Picasso’s breakthrough.
Over a long lifetime Picasso was famously productive. In the decades following 1915, he incorporated decorativeness into cubism and explored wide-ranging concepts—especially the erotic abandon espoused by the surrealists—in an astounding array of mediums: costume and theatre design, sculpture, ceramics, prints, watercolors, paintings, and public commissions. In his works on paper Picasso created a trove of prints and drawings in which mythology and the sexy beast Minotaur (his alter ego) figure prominently. He also worked on suites of images exploring the elements of creative practice: the artist’s studio and the relationship of artist and model.
In his last decades Picasso took on the great masters—pitting his print, watercolor, and painted works against signature images by Poussin, Le Nain, Velásquez, Rembrandt, Manet, and others—just as artists who followed Picasso would test themselves against his example. Pablo Ruiz Picasso died in 1972 at age ninety-one.