balladeer of moons

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Art Criticism

"The Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso


I used to practically reside at the corner of South Michigan Avenue and East Adams Street in Chicago,


and have had my fill of Grant Wood, Edward Hopper, Paul Gauguin, the incomparable Vincent Van


Gogh, Manet, Monet, Seurat and others. I used to stare at them for hours. However, the painting


which has most captured my attention lately and which is the subject of this paper is The Old


Guitarist, by Pablo Picasso. It is perhaps the finest painting that I have ever seen.


Picasso, I believe, painted this work to create an allegory of the modern artist. The subject is  


blind but has the inner vision of a seer. The artist is alienated from society, yet ironically depends


on society for his existence. The Old Guitarist stands as a symbol of what pursuing the


dream of art will do to a person in this world. Picasso was obviously searching for a subject


(infra-red imaging has shown two paintings underneath) and searching within himself. He could


not have come up with a better topic (Picasso).


The Old Guitarist favors a simplified design and strong line pattern. The dominance of blue (that


may have been the only color of paint that Picasso had to work with) makes the painting appear


flat and the figure isolated. The brownish guitar against the monochromatic blue makes the


instrument stand out, not only as the center of the painting, but as the center and vertex of the


artist's world. Oils look duller and accent the depression of the melancholy old man, who


may have been reduced to street-begging.


The influence of pentimento is obvious in the underlying portrait of a woman coming through


the surface of the primary painting. If a viewer were to look at the painting closely from a slight


angle, he should see a ghostly pair of eyes coming through over the guitarist's head.


The theme of Picasso's work may be overplayed – the alienation of the modern artist – but the


Spanish master has done a unique job of portraying this sentiment. The old guitarist shows


almost no signs of life; his head is bowed. Picasso was barely surviving with little money and


little hope, yet he was able to produce this masterpiece with his invincible drive and talent. So


much for the psychologists who have said that great human achievement is possible only after


one's basic physiological needs are met. This is precisely what makes The Old


Guitarist such a great and memorable work of art, and we have it right here in Chicago!