‘Art washes away, from our soul the dust of everyday life’.
I had never been more inspired by a quote on the true meaning of art than this. I used to scribble it in all my notebooks and on social media captions. It helped me derive a meaning out of my love for art. Thirteen year old's don’t usually know how complicated adults really are, which is why I suppose, we always looked forward to growing up faster.
Seven years down the line, I call myself a feminist in a world that still evades the term as though every misrepresentation of it would derogate their existence. As a woman, I seek myself in many different ways; some of them being poetry and art. When I was a child, Pablo Picasso was probably one of the most phenomenal painters in my eyes. As an adult, that image rapidly morphs into disappointment and well, something that I’m quite used to; Objectification.
I have always believed that living in ignorance is a comparatively easier task. But coming back to Pablo Picasso, as a sensitive woman with a conscience, I find it relatively easier to deal with the complexities of how, where and why an inspiration was drawn. Before getting into the dilemma of ‘Separating the art from the artist’ it’s important to understand why this analysis matters and why is it that only in contemporary times do women seem to have owned their voices?
Upon reading the feminist bible, also classically known as ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone De Beauvoir – we come to realize that women have never been able to organize themselves as a whole unit. While there were agitations against the bourgeois by the proletariats, and those on so many other bases as well; it was only after a very long time that women’s voices began to emanate the gendered bias, stereotypes and the lack of opportunities for them. As history unfolds, we also witness the impact that women, as the ‘Gatekeepers of Patriarchy’ have had on the entire concept of fighting for equal rights as an internally divided unit.
Somehow, society and its perceptions have always been traced to how a woman was expected to behave. However, when we talk about men like Pablo Picasso and his depictions of women as a mere ‘Muse’ or a ‘Phase’ of an artistic career, a question comes to the mind; what spectrum of behavior should ‘Objectification’ fall in? Is it a spectrum that says ‘Men will be men’ and women have to make careful choices? When we talk about human beings, women and men should both be subjected to all its implications. After all, ‘The Second Sex’, ‘The Other Gender’ and in simpler terms, ‘Women’ are the same creatures that used to live, hunt, lead and prosper just as a man did during the prehistoric era.
As man evolved, the woman was pushed deeper into the shadows. Fast forward to the thriving artistic culture where art supersedes the process of creation, Pablo Picasso represents that exploitation in the form of misogyny, patriarchy and an aesthetic subjugation of women with every stroke of his brush on an empty canvas.
But the world still knows ‘The Weeping Woman’, ‘Le Rêve’ and ‘Girl before a Mirror’ as Picasso’s phenomenal works without ever being privy to the fact that ‘Girl before a Mirror’ was actually his mistress called Marie-Thérèse Walter who he had impregnated and left for ‘The Weeping Woman’ that depicts one of his many muses Dora Maar, a French photographer, painter and a poet who succumbed to depression after he, yet again had left her for a much younger artist.
The cycle goes on and on. In fact, he even goes on to refer to women as either ‘Goddesses or doormats’. That fact that he was a cause for multiple suicides, including that of Marie-Thérèse Walter who had lost all meaning of her existence which he had reduced to that of a ‘Muse’; once Picasso had ended his own life through suicide – goes on to display how ‘Men CAN be Men’ and still be idolized for their contributions in a domain.
So, am I asking you to separate the art from the artist? Guilt, conscience and empathy – these are not things that can be injected into a human being in one read. This is a paradigm that exceeds the dilemma of the art and the artist.
How many of us have known about ‘Picasso: My Grandfather’ a memoir by Marina Picasso, one of Picasso’s granddaughters? Not many, I reckon and this is how a woman’s voice, despite being honest and bare is often sidelined. It has become a part of our culture but there is hope when individuals try to bring the truth behind infamous poets, artists and writers to the forefront.
However, I knew Pablo Picasso as an impeccable artist before exploring the reality for myself. This also remains an undeniable truth of the world we live in, the information we are fed and the efforts we must put in to see the whole painting; not just in its glory but also in its clear affirmations of denying women a status more than that of ‘Objects’. This calls for a more comprehensive approach to the practice of interpretation.
If art is supposed to signify freedom, to what extent is that freedom of expression acceptable when it comes to artists such as Pablo Picasso who, quite literally have made paintings out of their deeply problematic and quite possibly, undiagnosed mental health issues?
The answer does not lie in boycotting or, as the popular term goes ‘Cancel culture’. It lies in understanding the gender dynamics and acknowledging the process of creation as an inherent part of a gruesome reality guised as an appealing outcome.