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Understanding Picasso

Updated on February 9, 2017

Picasso, the first thought that comes to mind when hearing his name is greatness. Cubism, revolutionary art movements, collage, plastics, surrealism, words that are usually associated with him. No doubt he had such impact on art world with mass following of fans and critics. The great numbers of critics shows the complexity of his art works.

Most common remarks on his artworks are “some of his works are hard to interpret”. Now why is it so? Mainly the reason could be that with the maturing age and gaining experience, he developed great interest towards symbolism in his art works rather than realism up to such a point that in this age some of the ignorant might refer to his skills as amateur.

Was he really an amateur or are we simply naïve to understand his art works? Let’s take one of his artworks i.e. the weeping woman 1937 (sold for 2.5 million $)

To fully understand the meaning behind each and every detail, we might have to ask Picasso himself. But for the sake of understanding any art, I find these steps useful:

First Reaction:

Describe to yourself the object and the actions that you see in the artwork. In this case, it shows a portrait of a woman who is crying and holding a handkerchief to her face. (You don’t have to be an artist to get that.)


The actual content of what the artwork is. The painting obviously shows a woman crying. She might represent various situations but at that time Spanish civil war was going on. He had already painted “Guernica” to express the chaotic impact of war on men and women but in this piece of artwork he indirectly described the desolation that the war caused individually. It might also refer to the letter that his mother wrote to him from Barcelona saying that smoke from the burning city during the fighting made her eyes water.

Historical Context:

Usually the time period in which the artist creates his/her artworks affect the subjects they chose. This painting was painted in 1937, a crucial time for Spain. The Franco had bombed Guernica in Spain (his home country). The wide, shocked eyes in the portrait represents his own painful reaction to the news as well as the pain of every citizen who has lost something in war.

Personal Context:

Who could the people represent? In this art work the model was Dora Maar. A professional photographer who remained his mistress for almost a decade. During their relationship, he made a number of her portraits. In this painting, he made her from different angles all at the same time. He did not added the effect of depth but gave a linear representation. He had an acknowledgment of the suffering that a woman goes through in society. He once said:

“For me she's the weeping woman. For years I've painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure, either; just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was the deep reality, not the superficial one... Dora, for me, was always a weeping woman....And it's important, because women are suffering machines.”

Picasso changed the idea of relation of art from simply beautification to a medium of expression so powerful that it effect the basic core of being a human.


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    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 5 months ago from Glasgow

      Interesting read. I always like to remind myself that most of the "great" artists- Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh etc were very talented and could create realistic images if they wanted to. The fact that they chose to go against the grain, to differ from the norm and to challenge the idea of art is what really made them stand out from other artists of their time. So even if, by todays standards, a painting isn't deemed to be very good by the wider public,it is comforting to know that the artist paved the way for us to have a variety of pieces to look at, instead of the classical, typical, boring, portraits and landscapes of times gone by.