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Picasso, the Old Guitarist

In: English and Literature

Submitted By stevie53
Words 867
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Analysis and Interpretation of “The Old Guitarist” Painted by Pablo Picasso in Barcelona in 1903 following the suicide of a close friend, “The Old Guitarist” is is a relatively still painting, showing a street musician in a moment of extreme suffering. On the outskirts of a consumeristic society as a non-producer, poverty and depression are a reality many artists have faced in the modern world. Picasso adeptly captures the tragic figure of the starving artist clutching his instrument, bowed by the pressures of life. The man is dressed in rags and looks as though he is blind, and yet the guitar is still the center of his being. With his deft use of color, space, shape and line, Picasso is able to elicit a surge of emotion from the viewer and make a statement about the nature of pain, suffering, and poverty in the life of an artist. Color is one obvious element Picasso uses to influence the viewer’s emotions. “The Old Guitarist” was painted during his “blue period” and has a monochromatic color scheme. The entire painting, except for the guitar, is in different shades of blue and gray. This does two things. First, the monochromatic color scheme flattens out the forms and makes them look more two-dimensional and less lifelike. The man in the painting looks close to death, almost frozen. The exception to this, the place that shows the most contrast and dimension, is the area of the neck, which is also closest to the bright spot of the head. Your eye is drawn to this light area and then travels down the neck. There the muscles are straining against a burden. The viewer understands that the man is under some sort of stress, perhaps simply the stress of trying to survive. There is a reason for the saying, “starving artist”. Many artists are not successful and yet they continue to paint, play, or sculpt because they cannot give up their passion. The painting shows that Picasso knew what it was to be poor and sympathized with the downtrodden and castoffs of society. Another bright area is the shoulder, drawing attention to the hole in the clothing and emphasizing the poverty of the man. The rest of the figure is lacking animation. The choice of cool blue influences the emotion of the viewer as well, creating a general tone of sadness and emphasizing the tragic nature of the figure. The only part of the painting which is not blue is the guitar, making it stand out as the most important part of the painting. The viewer can infer that whatever tragedy has befallen the old man is connected to music specifically or the arts in general. Picasso also manipulated space to bring tension into the painting. The figure does not have much space. The edges of the canvas seem to crush him inward and his neck muscles are taut as he is bent down at an impossible angle. His legs are incorrectly bent and folded beneath him and his arms are tight to the torso, giving further impression of being confined. The guitar is prominent in the center of the painting, and the figure’s body appears to be wrapped around it, implying that the man is consumed by his art. The viewer sees a man literally “wrapped up” in his guitar. Despite the weight of the head and the tension in the neck and shoulder, the rest of the body appears almost relaxed, cradling the guitar within the shelter of the body. In fact the guitar is one of two places where the eye is drawn off of the canvas, beyond the suffering depicted on it. It points to the upper right of the canvas, a strong, dark rectangle drawing the eye in this direction. This may suggest that the guitar or music is an escape from the reality the figure is enduring. The man is obviously suffering and in extreme poverty, possibly blind, yet he continues to play. The painting has contrasting shapes and lines. The left side of the painting is divided almost perfectly into thirds, while the right side is a well of flat darkness, and the shapes are almost perfectly rectangular. The lines of the body are unnaturally long, especially the toes and fingers, which appear almost skeletal. These contrast with the round body of the guitar, again bringing attention to that object of central importance. The lines in this portrait also seem harsh, as though representing the harshness of life. Picasso used horizontal lines on the left two-thirds of the painting, created by the previously mentioned rectangles as well as the man’s neck. These pull the viewer’s eyes towards the right, or the lighter side of the portrait and bring the eye’s focus back onto the suffering of the artist. “The Old Guitarist” is a haunting, melancholy painting reflecting the suffering an artist can experience when wrapped in the passion of his or her muse. With his deft use of color, space, shape and line, Picasso is able to elicit a surge of emotion from the viewer and make a statement about the nature of pain, suffering, and poverty in the life of an artist.

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