Imperialism


Pablo Picasso was probably the most influential modern painterof the 20th century. Born

in Spain, he lived in France much of his life painting, sculpting, making ceramics, and

doing graphic artwork. His style was quite avant-garde and unique, and he changed it

many times during his career. Picasso was one of the artists to lay the foundations for

Cubism, a style that used angular, cube-like structures to depict people and things. He

loved to shock the public with his strange, powerful paintings, drawings, prints, and

sculptures. Picasso was among the first to make collages by pasting material onto the

canvas.



Before his 50th birthday, theSpaniard from Malaga had become the very prototype of the

modern artist as public figure. No painter before him had had a mass audience in his own

lifetime. Picasso\'s audience--meaning people who had heard of him and seen his work, at

least in reproduction--was in the tens, possibly hundreds, of millions. He and his work

were the subjects of analysis, gossip, dislike, adoration and rumor. He was a superstitious,

sarcastic man, sometimes rotten to his children, often mean to his women. He had

contempt for women artists. His famous remark about women being "goddesses or

doormats" has rendered him odious to feminists, but women tended to walk into both

roles open-eyed and eagerly, for his charm was legendary.



He was also politically lucky. Though to Nazis his work was the epitome of "degenerate

art," his fame protected him during the German occupation of Paris, where he lived; and

after the war, when artists and writers were thought disgraced by the slightest affiliation

with Nazism or fascism, Picasso gave enthusiastic endorsement to Joseph Stalin, a mass

murderer on a scale far beyond Hitler\'s, and scarcely received a word of criticism for it,

even in cold war America.



No painter, not even Michelangelo, had been as famous as this in his own lifetime. And it

is quite possible that none ever will be again, now that the mandate to set forth social

meaning. Picasso was the last great beneficiary of the belief that the language of painting

and sculpture really mattered to people other than their devotees. And he was the first

artist to enjoy the obsessive attention of mass media. He stood at the intersection of these

two worlds. If that had not been so, his restless changes of style, his constant pushing

would not have created such controversy--and thus such celebrity.



In today\'s art world, a place without living culture heroes, you can\'t even imagine such a

protean monster arising. His output was vast. Still, Picasso\'s art filled the world, and he

left permanent marks on every discipline he entered. His work expanded, one image

breeding new clusters of others, right up to his death.



He was the artist with whom virtually every other artist had to reckon, and there was

scarcely a 20th century movement that he didn\'t inspire, contribute to or--in the case of

Cubism, which, in one of art history\'s great collaborations, he co-invented with Georges

Braque--beget.Since Picasso never painted an abstract picture in his life, even there his

handprints lay everywhere.



Much of the story of modern sculpture is bound up with welding and assembling images

from sheet metal, rather than modeling in clay, casting in bronze or carving in wood; and

this tradition of the open constructed form rather than solid mass arose from one small

guitar that Picasso snipped and joined out of tin in1912. If collage,the gluing of previously

unrelated things and images on a flat surface--became a basic mode of modern art, that too

was due to Picasso\'s Cubist collaboration with Braque. In the 1920s and \'30s he produced

some of the scariest distortions of the human body and the most violently irrational, erotic

images of Eros and Thanatos ever committed to canvas. He was not a realist painter, still

less anyone\'s official muralist, and yet Guernica remains the most powerful political image

in modern art.



Picasso was regarded as a boy genius, but if he had died before 1906, his 25th year, his

mark on 20th century art would have been slight. It was the experience of modernity that

created his modernism, and that happened in Paris. There, mass production and

reproduction had come to the forefront of ordinary life: newspapers, printed labels, the

overlay of posters on walls--the dizzily intense public life of signs, simultaneous,

high-speed and layered. This was the cityscape of Cubism.



Picasso was not a philosopher or a mathematician (there is no "geometry" in Cubism), but

the work he and Braque did between 1911 and