Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Capturing the elusive

EVER NOTICE how explanations sometimes get you thinking harder, perhaps deeper than you really should?

This painting by Picasso was a piece we took up in an introductory class to fine arts and aesthetics. Father Rene Javellana, our professor, asked us what we thought Picasso was trying to do.

Was he drunk while he was painting? Did he have problems with his vision? Was the subject that disfigured in real life? Was Picasso just messed up?

I didn’t have an answer. My response to the painting was that it looked “cool.” There was something “new” and “modern” about it that excited me. The ambiguity, the jaggedness in which the face was painted, and the fact that it was far different from the sensibilities of the Mona Lisa attracted me to the painting.

I thought the Mona Lisa was a boring, gloomy picture of a plain-looking woman. Picasso seemed to be mocking such boring portraits. Of course, I didn’t know the art critic’s explanation for everything. Uninformed as I was at the time, I just thought Picasso was being eccentric—“artsy,” if you will.

The explanation behind Picasso’s painting, according to Father Javellana, was that he was trying to capture the three-dimensional quality of the subject. A traditional portrait is two-dimensional, therefore depicting the subject from only one angle, one perspective. People aren’t two-dimensional. It’s just not real to view us that way.

Picasso tried to capture the subject from multiple dimensions. But of course he was trying to do so on a flat surface—the canvas. And he was disregarding the aspect of time, essentially trying to suspend it to capture and an elusive entirety. Thus, the “awkward” result which greatly differs from the two-dimensional images we are so used to.

That explanation opened up a flood of thoughts for me. Can you capture the many dimensions of a human in a medium that is technically limiting in its ability to capture reality? Picasso’s piece tried to do that. Still, he only attempted to depict the dimensions and perspectives of the physical aspect of the subject. Of course, humans have another dimension, which is the inner-self. Can that be captured, as well? Can we in one frame (whether on canvas, in writing, or even in our minds) have one image of a person that encompasses his entire being?

A host of questions about art, self-reflection, and representation—inevitably delving into philosophy—came from one painting and its theoretical explanation.

All this got me thinking about myself. The definition of who I am; will there ever be one? Can you capture the entirety of your being in words or in picture? Probably not. We are constantly changing. And while we access ourselves, we are always missing out on another aspect.

Did Picasso really intend for his painting to spark such thoughts? Or is he one of those masters in art and culture who used his revered status to mess with our minds?

Ever notice how explanations sometimes get you thinking harder, perhaps deeper than you really should?

Why does this stuff bother me? Well, I don’t lose sleep over it. It’s just fascinating how handicapped we are in viewing ourselves. Understanding ourselves is beyond our own knowledge.

And however hard we try to define ourselves, any semblance of a snapshot will be like Picasso’s work—a distorted, unfamiliar picture, whose accuracy and relevance has already disappeared the second it was formed. But at least it’ll look cool.


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