Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cubism (pt. 2)

This famous work of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, from 1907, shows five prostitutes.  There is no background to the painting, and each figure appears very flat and geometrically drawn onto the canvas.  They do not look realistic or even entirely human.  Two of them even have masks on to hide their faces.  Picasso has drawn them geometrically, with harsh linear structure that lends a tone of violence to their countenances; blank stares from their eyes cause them to resemble animalistic creatures, not people.  When painted in the Cubist style, they lose their realism, being stripped down to bare shapes and lines and colors; but the artist has implemented a little tonal nuance within his subject matter.  Why should prostitution be painted as glamorous?  Why should prostitutes be shown as pretty and poignant?  Here, the artist has done away with all pretenses of beauty.  Through the facial masks on the right and the woman's face on the left, the artist has made allusion to venereal diseases, some of which were believed to have come from Africa (the masks bear resemblance to works from African tribal art).  Not only is the Cubist technical approach attempting to portray the subject in a more comprehensively geometric and theoretically accurate way, the artist's treatment of the subject matter in the painting lend the work a sense of raw realism.  Prostitution is, after all, not the glamorous business which commercialists make it out to be, and there is something animalistic to be found in the practice.  And so, two figures hide their faces (and therefore hide their humanity), whilst another on the left has already begun to lose it.  Her face is discolored from the rest of her body, and her hand rests above her head in a disjointed pose.  The artist is making reference here to the sexually transmitted diseases which come with prostitution.  The two women on the right may bear similar (or worse) facial complexions, but they remain hidden under their masks.  The two women in the middle look out at the viewer indifferently.

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