Androula Michael

Picasso is not a painter!

Friday April 28 – Session 08 @ COAC

Depicting Picasso as an artist-painter is something that he would not have liked. “I’ve heard him say that so many times,” Brassaï reported: “I do what I can… I’m not an artist-painter…” Nevertheless, Brassaï went on to say that when faced with this or that panorama of the sea, this or that landscape, he often exclaimed “Oh, if only I were an artist-painter…” or “It would be wonderful for someone who was an artist-painter…” Picasso actually poked fun at the “artist-painter” figure, as did Marcel Duchamp with his pejorative remark “as stupid as a painter”.

Depicting Picasso as a painter would not have been very appropriate. In one sentence, Picasso admitted that he did not like talking about his painting in the same way as Joan Miró did. He clarified this by saying “Because Miró is a painter and I’m not.” Surprised by this, his friend Roberto Otero asked him: “So what are you?” Picasso explained: “I’m much more, but people don’t take me seriously. They take me seriously only as a painter. Too bad for them.” Picasso thought outside the box, beyond a restrictive comfort zone that would confine him to a logic of separation. So, when he claimed to be “a poet gone wrong”, he hastened to clarify that he was not “a writer like the others”. In his writings, he takes on the role of philosopher, of poet, or of a naughty boy who finds it funny to relentlessly blur boundaries. He often replied with incongruence, raising it up like a protective drawbridge against the surge of an enclosed identity, that is to say, the kind of identity to which criticism often confined him.

The constant play between the Same and Other is central not only to his work but also to his life, as evidenced by the masks and multiple disguises of which he was fond. Picasso viewed identity in its instability and malleability, and conferred a performative dimension on it. Hence, the male and female, the plant and the animal, the human and the animal tend to blend, especially in his poetic writings.

We imagine that depicting the artist as a chef would have been more appropriate! A specific place and metaphor for the creative act, a kitchen is the ideal place for the mixture. This often incongruous mixture created by Picasso, one of hybrid forms that defeat any attempt at classification. It evokes the equally improbable one “of a certain Chinese encyclopaedia” described by Borges, which Foucault cites at the beginning of his work The Order of Things, “breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other”. The following question that Foucault poses is the same as the one that Picasso asked himself, using different terms and other media throughout his life: “On what ‘table’, according to what grid of identities, similitudes, analogies, have we become accustomed to sort out so many different and similar things?”

Brassaï, Conversations avec Picasso, Gallimard, 1964, p. 149-150.

Androula Michael

Associate Professor, UFR des arts, Paris

Androula Michael is an art historian, a lecturer in Contemporary Art, the international relations manager of the Art Training and Research Unit at Université de Picardie Jules Verne, the deputy director of the Art and Aesthetics Research Centre (CRAE) and a freelance exhibition curator. She co-edited, alongside Marie-Laure Bernadac, the book entitled Picasso. Propos sur l’art (Gallimard, 1998). She has published Picasso poète (ENSBA, 2008) and co-directed, alongside Laurence Bertrand-Dorléac, Picasso: l’objet du mythe (ENSBA, 2005). In collaboration with Laurent Wolf, she has published the volume on Picasso of Cahiers de l’Herne (2014). Her current research focuses on the comparative critical reception of Pablo Picasso’s and Marcel Duchamp’s work.

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