Posted on “What is Cubism?” art historian Sebastian Zeidler at the MA program
“In the fall of 2013 a seminar on the Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso will be convened at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington. In preparation for it, the participants have been asked to produce a reply to the question, ‘What Is Cubism?’
The fact the question should be asked at all is reason enough to give one pause, for a quarter-century ago it seemed to have been settled for good. To be sure, the answers were varying widely at the time, depending on whether one was asking a semiologist or a social historian; but everyone did indeed have an answer ready. Today, that is no longer the case. As the methodological battles of the 1980s and 1990s have faded away, so have the certainties about the work of Braque and Picasso which they used to generate. One hundred years after its inception, Cubism looks more elusive than ever before.This talk will attempt to turn that elusiveness into a virtue by looking at the art anew and from an unfamiliar perspective. Its focus will be double. It will extract a set of theoretical terms from the art criticism of Carl Einstein, writer, friend of Braque, and co-founder of Documents magazine. These terms will then be made productive for a close visual analysis of some of the most hermetic paintings by Braque from 1911/12. The discoveries that will emerge in the process will demonstrate graphically that the longer one stares at a Cubist painting the less familiar it becomes.
Discussion after the talk might extend out to Picasso. We still refer to the Cubism of “Picasso and Braque,” as though the latter was simply the understudy of the former. Looking at a number of paintings of Guitars which Picasso made at Sorgues in 1912 can help invert that hierarchy. Picasso’s passion was certainly different from Braque’s, but it was not for that reason better than his.”