Essay on Cubism - 1872 Words | Bartleby
Admittedly, there are problems with this account of Cubism (including the reality that neither Picasso nor Braque ever did actually produce papiers collés devoid of all sculptural modeling). Still, it seems to me that Greenberg’s larger narrative, especially the part concerning the paintings of 1911 and 1912, is able to accommodate many of the eccentric features of those works—their stenciling, for example, and the addition of sand to their surfaces—that demand explanation yet that, prior to Greenberg’s essay at least, had seemed particularly inexplicable. My own feeling (obviously enough) is that, because of this explanatory power, “Collage” deserves rather more attention than it has received, particularly over the last several decades.
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Again, these two views—on the one hand, that Cubist pictures give us better or truer depictions of things as they actually are; on the other, that they are themselves independent or autonomous things—would seem inherently contradictory. (The first emphasizes the representational function of the image, the second all but denies it.) Of course, that didn’t prevent both views from being voiced by one and the same individual, often in the space of a single essay. Rather than seeing this as a flaw of the criticism, however, I want to suggest that the contradictions inherent in the early interpretations of Cubism actually reveal something very important about the works in question. They help us to see that Cubism was an art built out of, and sustained by, contradiction. Consequently, the very best accounts of it we have are precisely those that emphasize the things most contradictory in its aims and ambitions.
The only problem, according to Greenberg, was that familiarity seemed to weaken the effect. By 1912 Picasso and Braque had begun selectively adding sand to their paint so as to give it a visible texture [see fig. 4]. The hope was that, by introducing an explicitly tactile element, still larger areas of the actual surface could be emphasized, thereby prolonging the desired spatial illusions everywhere else. As Greenberg tells the story, this strategy too eventually proved insufficient; and, of course, it was bound to. Insofar as the intention was to overcome (and not merely to deny) the literal flatness of the painting’s material support, the project was doomed to failure from the start. Ontological failure, I hasten to add—not aesthetic failure. On aesthetic grounds, I think we can agree, most of the works manage quite nicely. Yet it was their nonreconciliation to flatness—to, we might say, the unavoidable conditions of their own existence—that Greenberg regarded as their most distinctive feature. It is also what he saw motivating Cubism’s development. Faced with the impossible demand to simultaneously spell out and overcome its literal flatness, Cubist painting was driven to ever more extreme measures; its history appears, as a result, as a succession of retrospective, dialectical responses to its inability to free itself from its all-too-literal, material support.