I recently went to see a temporary exhibit of Pablo Picasso's works, on loan from the Paris Picasso Museum itself, at The Pushkin Museum of Arts.
Actually entering the Museum took some planning, as I’d heard that others had waited in line for approximately three hours before they could get in.
Even though I arrived right when the museum opened, on a Tuesday morning, I waited for about fifteen minutes just to get onto its territory. Not even to get in line to buy a ticket. This was a line waiting to get in line to buy a ticket. And the crazy bit - which I wasn't expecting - was that I wasn't the only person there under the age of sixty-five. Approximately half of the line's occupants were senior citizens on a pension, but only half.
Don't let that "lack" fool you. It was still hot in the exhibit halls, and packed with people like the metro can be, and I am afraid not all individuals of that age group can keep perfect control of their bowels.
Inside the exhibit hall was, in a word, vile.
That personal foible ought not to have been enough to deter me from such a master of world art as Picasso, himself. And there were certainly those works that were astonishingly beautiful. There are times when I confront the canon of High Phenomenological Objects (Briull makes fun of me for calling it that and not simply “phenomena,” but I think there’s a difference) and, despite being conscious that I am looking at something so famous and so familiar for its fame, I still find it beautiful. Of course I can’t untangle whether I think it is beautiful because it’s famous or if it’s famous because it’s beautiful – except for the knowledge that I reject most of the Canon of HPO, which would seem to disprove the former. My understanding of aesthetic beauty would appear to be a different thought process than my understanding of what I should understand is “important” for world art history.
But even with those masterpieces (ROD – shedevry) in mind, I cannot say I was pleased by the exhibition, or that I derived, in the end, more pleasure than displeasure from it. And there’s a moment where I think: “S&S.B.J! How can you dare say such a thing about a Picasso exhibit?!” I dare say such a thing about a Picasso exhibit because it’s true. Sure, there were masterpieces that I’ve seen since childhood, and there were those masterpieces that I hadn’t known before, and there were those paintings and sculptures that I’m sure other people think are beautiful but I didn’t quite enjoy.
But for that fraction of the exhibit there was a spawning cesspool of “etudes” and “sketches” and “variations.” I would say, with no actual numbers to back up my statistical claim, that in terms of sheer proportion it was roughly 25% finished works, 75% etudes.
And I kept thinking to myself, “Picasso wouldn’t have called this art. I don’t think this is art. Why am I supposed to consider this art? Who thinks this is art?”
An etude is nothing more and nothing less than a tool used to attempt to perfect the eventual masterpiece. I’m not trying, in this post, to be iconoclastic. I’m not trying to argue that we should build an aura around The Master and his Work by burning drafts and unfinished projects. What I mean is that these etudes have a special place for researchers, painters, creative individuals attempting to understand what kind of creative process Picasso used. It’s for the hardcore fans who aren’t satisfied with “the real deal.” I’m not sure I agree with the assumptions at work behind any of those groups’ “need” to see Picasso’s works in progress.
But I agree even less with the desire to put those unfinished works on display and speak of them in the same breath as those works for which Picasso gave up some bit of his soul. For those works to which Picasso gave years of his life and chunks of his liver and the various loves of his heart.
I am not and never will be a painter, period, let alone a master like Picasso. But say I was. Say that I had some series of paintings half as famous as “The Guitarist” of the Blue Period or the murals to the 1937 Spanish Pavilion. Never, in none of the multiverses, would I want to see every doodle I’ve ever drawn put on the same wall as those paintings.
I am not and never will be a theatrical individual, period, let alone a master like Diaghelev, Stanislavsky, Meyerhold. But say I was….I would never want to see a video recording of that third-grade musical in which I played some kind of shopkeeper to be included in the “definitive collection” of my work.
I am not but will hopefully be a writer, kind of like all those masters who have gone before. Let’s say I am. I’m fine with letting some kind of diary, or correspondence, be published. But never, in none of the multiverses, would I want to see every draft and every note I’ve ever written be published, as if they were as important as those novels that I have named done, that I have named Art. Those drafts and notes inform the work that follows them, but they are not, themselves, a work of art. They are not, themselves, important; nor should the beneficiaries of my potential estate try to glean still more profit out of the reproduction of them. I’d rather that those – as they are not full manuscripts – burn.
Yes, I – the historian – the lover of drafts and censorship and self-censorship and revisions - I am tempted to destroy every draft of everything I ever write, saving only the “finished” product. And I am tempted to damn those who do not.
I’m looking at you, Christopher Tolkien.
2 weeks ago