Cubism was an inventive movement which began in 1907 in France and its main aspect was featuring the surfaces of geometrical planes. The Cubist movement developed as a new wave art movement and was initiated by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, simultaneously. European sculpture, literature, music and painting were completely revolutionized by this movement and it also directly influenced a number of other movements like Expressionism, Precisionism, Constructivism, Orphism, Purism and Futurism.
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Cubism is said to have two branches which are:
- Analytic Cubism – It is the 1st branch of Cubism which, although short, was both highly influential and a radical art movement whose significant presence was felt in France between 1907 and 1911. This phase tried to depict the subjects and objects as viewed and perceived by the mind and not merely by the eye. Analytic Cubist artists reduced natural forms into fundamental geometric shapes in a two-dimensional plane and colors was almost never used since mostly monochromatic schemes were used consisting of ochre, grey and blue shades. They represented the natural world through cones, cylinders and spheres. (Wood & Frascina, 265)
- Synthetic Cubism – This is the 2nd phase and is named so since the artists used synthetic material in their art forms. This movement remained important from 1913 till about 1920 after which the Surrealist Movement came into being. With the evolution of the Cubist movement graphic elements, color and texture were slowly being added to the art forms. In this phase the works that were featured had bright colors and were made of simpler forms. Later, the works even started to appear similar to collages rather than mere paintings. (Calo & Stokstad, 336-337)
Cubism did not develop suddenly and out of nothing. In the beginning of the 20th century a number of contemporary art movements were emerging all over France of which Fauvism, which is the predecessor of Cubism, was of significance. Cubist artworks and artists broke away from the centuries old tradition and completely rejected the earlier ideas which said that the art forms should portray only a particular viewpoint. Instead the artists broke up the objects then analyzed and again reassembled them presenting us with an abstract art form. Several different viewpoints were considered simultaneously in this analytical system of art form for fragmenting and redefining various three-dimensional art subjects. Thus, the subjects were represented in a far greater context than earlier as space and form was broken down into many geometrical shapes. The surfaces of their art forms intersected apparently at random angles which removed any rational sense of depth. Cubism enabled the artists to depict their subjects in multiple time lapses and also from several perspectives unlike the traditional art forms which forced the artists to fix their perspective in a single space and time. In the work of the Cubist artists, the object and background planes mutually penetrate each other by creating a thin ambiguous space. This is one of the major characteristics which distinguish the Cubist movement from others.
Cubism is also said to have 3 distinct phases as described by Douglas Cooper, an English art historian. They are:
- Early Cubism – It ranges between 1906 and 1908 and refers to the phase when the movement was slowly developing in the works of Braque and Picasso.
- High Cubism – This refers to the second phase and ranges between 1909 and 1914. During this phase Juan Gris became a significant supporter of the movement.
- Late Cubism – This is the final phase of Cubism ranging between 1914 and 1920 where Cubism was largely accepted as a new avant-garde movement. (Sylvester, 154-155)
Other than Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso the other artists who were the significant advocators of the Cubist movement were Sir Jacob Epstein, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Fernand Leger, Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay and Jean Metzinger. Cubist art works can immediately be recognized as they are almost flat and have a two-dimensional outlook. Unlike the traditional portraits and landscapes, the Cubist art forms were not intended to be natural and realistic but rather as a piece fragmented from various vantage points into a complete one. The root of the Cubist movement is believed to have arisen from the distinct characteristic features of Paul Cézanne’s. He too used to first break the surface into smaller painting areas having multiple sides and his works had simple natural forms of cones, cylinders and spheres. (Elkins, 79-80) But the Cubist artists developed this concept further depicting objects in a single plane and thus, revolutionizing the visualization of objects in art and paintings. Cubism was also influenced by Henri Rousseau making them break out of the consistencies of traditional art and providing them with the freedom of creating masterpieces that are outrageously different. The Cubist artists did not just naturally translate objects but manipulated them emotionally.
Although the movement was not long lasting it shaped an enormous creative outburst that was seen in the artworks throughout the 20th century. Cubism revolutionized visual representation and tremendously influenced every piece of artwork painted thereafter.
Calo, Carole G. & Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. Dublin: Prentice Hall, 1996.
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Elkins, James. Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook For Art Students. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
Sylvester, David. About modern art. Edition: 2. London: Yale University Press, 2002.
Wood, Paul & Frascina, F. Modernism in dispute: art since the Forties. London: Yale University Press, 1993.