I went to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco on Sunday. That's not really my point, but that's where I'll start.
I went to see the Picasso exhibit. It's a timid approach to a very forceful subject: A man who was a force of nature by the look of it.
Picasso lived for a long time, 94 years I believe, a life span that started when cars were barely known to the world and ended after there were rockets transporting human beings into outer space. He was artistically productive, kind of an understatement when you learn of his tremendous output and fascination with the purpose and meaning of art throughout his life. What usually distinguishes Picasso in the minds of semi-art-literate people like me is his frequent depictions of subjects whose features look unintelligible and challenging, not beautiful.
I got to the museum with my companions, gained entry to the first gallery and put on my Audio Tour headphones and began to learn about the man and his art. I exited the museum with new appreciation for his artistic viewpoint and his drive to change the way we see things. I felt like I'd entered a vortex, a black hole of artistic energy wherein Picasso had existed and stood his ground in the face of all the powers of god and nature and sucked them dry, painting the encounters or sculpting them. The body of work he left is powerful, moody, intense and thought provoking. Don't tell me it isn't. He provokes your mind no matter who you are. You may not like it, but he pricks you and you remember the wound.
What struck me about the things I learned about Picasso was his persistent ability and drive to depict his subjects as many things at once, to use them as prompts for our - the observer's - ability to perceive and connect ideas. African masks especially were huge sparks of his creative imagination, connecting him to the spirit world, changing dimensions of time and space and movement. His wife and lovers who were his muses at various times in his life took on various forms and colors depending on the political, social or emotional state of his life.
Underlying all the layers of meaning, metaphor and symbolism was one man's intellect attempting to understand the visible and invisible worlds we live in. He was driven to reach the most essential, most distilled concepts of death, love, war, time and immortality and express those ideas visually.
Many people have one good idea in their lives or none at all. They just exist. Most of us have a few quick thoughts that come and go. We have mild friendships, stay mostly out of trouble and try pretty hard not to rock the boat. Picasso was a man possessed with the idea of not only rocking the boat but showing us all sides of the boat at once, its nuances, its meaning in spiritual terms, how it had once been a tree and had been shaped by hands and tools, how it feels, how the water splashes against its sides, how it sounds when the oars creak as we row. All that in one complicated, deconstructed and reconstructed image. Over and over a few thousand times. When you get that Picasso was trying to do all that in his best works, you get Picasso.
But, as he said, and as is true for all creative effort, what we see as we stand in front of a painting or a photograph or hear in a concert hall is what the artist was wrestling with at that moment. Now he or she has moved on. We trail behind in the wake of their efforts, way behind. In the case of Pablo Picasso, he has moved on, but the enormous number of prints, images, canvases and forms that remained behind at his death provide an overwhelmingly complicated trail that shows where his mind went throughout his life and the huge scope of his creative energy. It's a wonder any of his peers remained standing once he left the room. I think we'll be reeling in his wake for a long time to come.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way