A dear friend of mine reminds his young talented daughter (who has chosen art as a career), that to become an artist is to choose the highest form of expression. For genuine art lovers there are few things more sacred than this fact. They know what art can do. But for the rest who cannot see why someone pays a phenomenal price for a painting, I write this piece.
I grew up on art. I was exposed to great artists when I was young and have never stopped visiting their work since. Every time I observe their work, I find something that I had not noticed before. I know now that what I had not noticed was a result of what I had not understood, because it had always been there. Art is nothing but the expression of one’s growth within. The greats are great because they touched those aspects of spiritual expression that others could not understand at the same time they did. That is why, what Van Gogh painted a hundred years ago is studied and proven by scientists today as the actual energy movement in our universe. People did not understand Van Gogh’s stars until studies proved that he had perceived them in their original energy flow. Impressionists were discarded almost immediately as they showed up, because water and flowers and figures were represented by unusual brush strokes. But when you see the famous Water Lilies today, you are mesmerized because somehow the collective human consciousness has elevated to perceive them them through Monet’s eyes.
Appreciating art is one thing, but when art becomes a medium of one’s own expression, it is quite another. I had not touched a paint brush after my school days, and one day thirty odd years later, I found myself moving it liberally and confidently on canvas. I later learnt that it was an outcome of the years of spiritual practice that had arranged my energies in a way that needed creative expression. It was only when I took to painting that I began to see the precise connection of art to human awareness. It was then I thought of Picasso. He had been the only artist whose work I had avoided because I felt estranged every time I had tried to figure it out. I had seen prints of Picasso’s work in almost every French home that I had visited and was convinced they liked his work for its shock value.
A few months ago I visited the Picasso museum in Paris, and what his work did to my senses is hard to explain. Right from the moment I saw his tiny framed sketches of a guitar, a cube or some animal, I knew I was standing before exceptional artistic expression. To think that I did not give this person’s work a second glance, hurt. And yet, the ripening that had unknowingly formed within me as I stood there struck by his genius, made up for lost time. I could not understand how I was suddenly feeling this intense awe instead of the usual confusion and dismissiveness towards his work. The more I saw his journey as an artist through the supple connectivity of the museum rooms, the more I understood what his life work was all about. But I didn’t understand it logically. I only understood it as a transmission, as transmitted in a look between two people.
It took me a good few months to give my experience a more logical form. Picasso has said that one can only truly understand the art of creation through the series of all variations. He had let himself experience it all. He was a painter, a sculptor, a printmaker, a ceramist, a stage designer, a poet and a playwright. As a painter, he gone from being a realist to a surrealist. In many ways, Picasso was like life itself, which is best understood when it is varied. And like life, his work is the journey of his consciousness. What cannot be understood in singularity is understood collectively. A flat eye, disproportionate in the geometry of human anatomy can entice a logical mind to look beyond. But one can only look beyond when one is reasonably free from the idea of how things should be. Only when a painting is accepted as is, does it reveal the subtle nuances of the artist. Sometimes, a Picasso painting can hit you as a whole, with all it’s small disjointed parts coming together as one great masterpiece, even before you can take the next breath. It can make your eyes wet. It can cast your mind aside. Picasso gives the viewer many such opportunities to move beyond the logical mind.
Picasso’s work is the chemistry of his authenticity and his thought. That is why he is the only artist that has demonstrated so much evolution through his work. He has attempted every form of expression parallel to the nature of his very colorful life and spilt it on his canvases. Unlike many artists of his time, he did not paint on topical matters. He did not send a message of anti-war through his paintings, for instance, which made many condemn him as irresponsible. But then, art is a process of self-expression and Picasso was affected more by the women in his life than war. And yet, when he painted the bombing in Guernica, he expressed himself so intensely that the painting went on to become one of the strongest political statement on war by any artist. In the painting, he has put animals and man on an equal foot, showing the experience of pain as equal to both, and shown the condition of man turning into an animal during a war. Sometimes art is created for the artist and no one else, but its greatness can be such a compelling form of energy that it cannot remain unshared for long. The yearning of the higher intellect is so strong that it can draw a great thing out from the deepest crevices. Van Gogh’s paintings would have no value even today had our intelligence not evolved.
What I realized at the Picasso museum was that the artist had represented life and its meaning in every way possible through his giant body of work. In a certain sense, he lived as if he had become life. There is a quote that says that the freedom Picasso afforded himself to be an artist in a huge number of ways, seems to be a huge psychological liberation. And it is not surprising this should be said. Every human being is looking for liberation in some form. Picasso was no exception. However, to recognize this thirst of liberation in another, one needs to first have it. And when you have money too, a painting becomes the water for your thirst and you buy it.