balladeer of moons
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!