Cubism (1907-1922)

Cubism was one of the first truly modern movements to emerge in art.

It evolved during a period of heroic and rapid innovation between Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

The movement has been described as having two stages:

‘Analytic’ Cubism, in which forms seem to be ‘analyzed’ and fragmented;

and ‘Synthetic’ Cubism, in which newspaper and other foreign materials such as chair caning and wood veneer, are collaged to the surface of the canvas as ‘synthetic’ signs for depicted objects.

The style was significantly developed by Fernand Léger and Juan Gris.

Analytic Cubism staged modern art’s most radical break with traditional models of representation.

It abandoned perspective, which artists had used to order space since the Renaissance.

And it turned away from the realistic modeling of figures and towards a system of representing bodies in space that employed small, tilted planes, set in a shallow space.

Over time, Picasso and Braque also moved towards open form – they pierced the bodies of their figures, let the space flow through them, and blended background into foreground. Some historians have argued that its innovations represent a response to the changing experience of space, movement, and time in the modern world.

Synthetic Cubism proved equally important and influential for later artists. Instead of relying on depicted shapes and forms to represent objects, Picasso and Braque began to explore the use of foreign objects as abstract signs.

Cubism paved the way for geometric abstract art by putting an entirely new emphasis on the unity between the depicted scene in a picture, and the surface of the canvas. Its innovations would be taken up by the likes of Piet Mondrian, who continued to explore its use of the grid, its abstract system of signs, and its shallow space.


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