What Does Cubism Mean in Art?

Why did Cubists decide to turn their back on tradition and what did Cubism mean for the art movements that would follow?

What Is Cubism

It may sound like a cliche now, but beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. This goes for the creative minds behind works of art and for the interpreters of visual arts, whether professionals or laymen. 

Paintings show us what artists see, think, and feel about a certain subject matter. These ideas are put together and drawn on a canvas. Colors, shapes, and lines are all connected to form an image. It is a reflection of the real world or the artist’s perception of the world. 

From today’s perspective, it is easy to conjure up diverse artistic approaches to unleash the creative force within. But things were much different at the turn of the 20th century. And while it has always been up to artists to choose how they wish to communicate with the viewers, artists followed the tradition and abided by its written or unwritten rules. 

Cubists were determined to communicate differently, break the rules and leave traditionally realistic depictions of a subject matter in the past. In other words, cubism helped refine and redefine art.

What Is Cubism?

Cubism can best be described as a movement and an innovative artistic genre that abandoned a single viewpoint and instead relied heavily on simple geometric shapes, interlocking planes, and collage. Cubists turned their backs on tradition and paved the way for art movements to come. Cubism inspired and heavily influenced many movements and art styles that followed. 

The Evolution of Art Prior to Cubism as a Movement

Art has been present since prehistoric times. Drawings on cave walls prove that humans have used this form of creativity to express themselves and possibly communicate with others. As the way of life changed and quality of life improved, arts evolved and flourished in the Ancient World. This expanded to the Medieval times and absolutely flourished during the Renaissance. 

During the Renaissance, between the period 1400 to 1600, people began to truly appreciate visual arts. Painters enjoyed celebrity status. But even they followed a strict set of rules.

Paintings had an important role to play: in the absence of photography, they served as historical documents. Artists during the Renaissance until the Realism period from 1848 to 1900 took this responsibility quite literally. Artworks from the 1400s until the 1900s have a one-point perspective. It adhered to the visual perception. However, humanity is more complex than just what the eye can see. The human mind is complex, always brimming with ideas that may be deemed unconventional, especially if an artist’s representation goes against the traditional rules, which is exactly what Cubists did. Of course, the process was gradual and no dramatic changes happened overnight.

The rise of the more radical concepts led to the rise of Modern Art. Rule-defying genres started with the introduction of Impressionism in 1865 until 1885. Claude Monet’s work titled “Impression, Sunrise” is a prime example. In a sense, the image is not realistic, but people can still understand the idea and recognize the pattern.

Other artistic styles and movements followed suit. These include Post- Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and last but not least, Cubism. Artistic representations were no longer defined by what the eye can see, but a more complex, nuanced expression of the entirety of the human ability of perception. 

The first three movements, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Expressionism, still had solid roots in the one-point perspective which had been the norm. However, in terms of Cubism, serious changes were underway. 

This form of artistic expression explores multiple points of view on a single canvas. This extraordinary idea went directly against the traditional way of thinking. And like all things that challenged the norms, Cubism faced mixed reactions from critics and audiences alike.

What Shift in Art Does Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein Represent? 

Picasso’s 1905-06 portrayal of Gertrude Stein explores the use of angular distortions and formal experimentation, which would go on to become the key defining characteristics of Cubism. The first stage of the Cubism movement is known as Analytical Cubism.

When Was Cubism Created?

Cubism came into existence around 1907. It would go on to become one of the most influential visual art styles of the twentieth century, but especially at its very beginning.

Which Two Artists Developed the Style?

Two of the greatest Cubist artist names are the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and the French artist Georges Braque. The two met in 1905. It did not take long for the two creative minds to form a friendship. This closeness gave Picasso the confidence to show the first ever Cubist painting to Braque. It is called “Demoiselles d’Avignon” made in 1907. 

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was revolutionary because the subject features five prostitutes with menacing looks. It is influenced by African tribal art. The bodies of women are in an upright position and have a disfigured appearance in geometric shapes. Due to its unusual style, this work was not made public until 1916.

Braque had mixed feelings about the painting. However, he chose to work with Picasso to develop the Cubist form. In 1908, Braque also created a Cubist painting called “Large Nude.” It is not as extreme as Picasso’s work in terms of body distortions. However, it is still a deviation from the traditional form of art. This piece also favors a limited palette of colors and multiple vantage points. Through this painting, the first era of Cubism, called Analytical Cubism, is introduced. Aside from humans, Picasso and Braque also shifted focus to objects. A prime example is Braque’s Violin and Palette in 1909.

Picasso and Braque, despite developing the style are not the ones who named this technique. It was a French critic named Louis Vauxcelles who gave Cubism its name. It was in 1908 when Vauxcelles described the landscapes of Braque’s paintings. Since the works comprised of cubes. It was not used in general immediately. But in 1911, the press adopted it to describe multi-dimensional artworks.

Expanding Cubism’s Influence

As the works of Picasso and Braque gained a wider audience, a Polish artist named Louis Marcossis joined the movement. His works have a lighter touch and more human qualities compared to others. 

Picasso’s fellow Spaniard named Juan Gris joined the Cubist movement in 1911. The majority of his works were inspired by his Cubist peers, but he has still managed to make them distinctive. 

In terms of architectural subjects, this field is explored by French painter Fernand Léger, who also developed and popularized his own personal Cubist style known as tubism and is considered a forerunner of pop art.

Another Cubist painter, Marcel Duchamp also did a painting called Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2) in 1912. This work features a figure in motion while complying with the flexible rules of Cubism. Details like limited color palettes and disfigured images with geometric shapes.

The Rise of Cubism (Synthetic Cubism)

In 1912, Picasso and Braque continued to develop Cubism by incorporating words into paintings. The collage elements on the canvas dominated the second era of Cubism. It is known as Synthetic Cubism. Compared to Analytical Cubism, this genre has brighter colors. An example of this work is Braque’s Fruit Dish and Glass in 1912. It is a combination of cut and pastes wallpaper with gouache on white laid paper, mounted on paperboard. It has random texts on the image and charcoal as a medium. This technique is called papier collé.

Another development was Orphic Cubism. The works of French painter Jacques Villon featured bright hues and augmented abstraction in 1913. An example of the Portrait of Marcel Duchamp. It has a bright color palette on oil canvas with obscure geometric shapes and multiple vantage points.

Cubism’s Lasting Influence on Modern Art

After breaking away from the traditional art rules from the Renaissance, artists discovered they no longer need to limit themselves. Cubist paintings shifted the focus from what we see with our eyes to our brain’s ability to change perspective and interpret things differently. 

Art has become less rigid and more stimulating. This freedom paved the way for the evolution of Modern Art. Other genres like Futurism, Constructivism, and Abstract Expressionism all had their roots in Cubism. 

Other forms of visual art like photography have also been influenced by Cubism. The movement also helped redefine literature, film, music, and graphic design. 

As long as there are radical ideas and artists with critical thinking skills, art will continue to evolve. And an integral part of this is what Cubism and Cubists gave the world.