Monday, June 13, 2011

Le Bordel d'Avignon

Climate change is happening and if we don't adjust how we live, we're all going to die.  Eating meat is a violation of animal rights.  Bush lied, people died.  Obama is a socialist and hates America.  Abortion is a right for all women.  Smoking leads to cancer and kills children.  Gay couples should have the right to marry.

These are just a handful of examples of modern-day controversies which tend to plague social and professional circles causing polarization and frequent heated debate.  There isn't much a citizen of any free society can do without running into a situation where a decision is made and others are loudly displaying their dissension.  It's all just a part of being human and rooted in personal beliefs, morals, and for many, upbringing.

A utopian society has some appeal because controversial statements like those written above would be non-existent and we could all mindlessly skirt along through life without disruption.  But wait, that doesn't sound all that appealing now, does it?  That's because controversy--ignoring the violence and hate that can come from it--will often times lead to education, patience, and tolerance.  Sure, some folks are more unforgiving in their support for controversial issues but for the most part, society in general embraces the fairly infrequent moments purposefully attempting to express their whys or why nots.

But how does one shape one's belief system?  How should one shape one's belief system?  Is it purely by learning from the opinions and wisdom of others?  Or must one encounter a psychological obstacle in order to learn how to emotionally and logically get beyond it?  Unfortunately, the one thing many folks lack in these rhetorical questions is the wisdom.  Not necessarily their own, but wisdom in general; wisdom that can impartially discern what is taking place, explain it in plain English, and allow the listener to therefore make an educated choice for how to react.  Too often, however, many individuals experience something controversial from a one-sided vantage point and solidify a permanent opinion that is terribly unwavering and ignorant.

Le Bordel d'Avignon (renamed Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1916 by art critic André Salmon to lessen its scandalous impact on the public) by Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) was painted in 1907 and is still considered to be one of the most controversial pieces of art ever created.  Picasso, up until that point in time, was becoming known for his various portraits utilizing specific shades and characters he was familiar with.  Though he was beginning to paint subject matter that could be construed as controversial, he hadn't stepped into the realm of defying public expectations until he released Le Bordel d'Avignon.

Picasso, with the help of artist Georges Braque, began to experiment with a new painting style they created called Cubism.  Finding inspiration from this new style as well as in Iberian pieces of art, Picasso spent many days creating sketches in preparation for this piece which depicts five prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona.  Each woman is posed differently and contorted in seemingly uncomfortable positions to portray the secret, dirty lives they lived and for many during this time, this was an atrocity to acknowledge let alone depict.

Once completed, only a close circle of friends were granted opportunities to view the piece which Picasso held in his private studio.  But what was merely controversial to some of them was about to become an international controversy on an epic scale.  During this time and known to many, Picasso's artistic influence was tame when compared to rival and fellow artist Henri Matisse who had just completed two pieces titled, Souvenir de Biskra (Blue Nude) and Le bonheur de vivre (The joy of life; sic).  When Matisse was afforded the chance to privately view Le Bordel d'Avignon, he was immediately offended at what he felt was Picasso's attempt to mock the modern movement calling the painting, "hideous whores."

The geometric shapes and poses of each nude woman certainly don't seem all that familiar when compared to Matisse's works but it was enough to launch Picasso into a new strata of influence and fame.  And after being privately held for nine years, the painting was finally put on public display in 1916 where art lovers were first able to see the flamboyantly controversial canvass.  It took several years for art critics and educators to finally surmise just how offensive the painting was and upon looking back, is considered one of the most impacting creations propelling modern art into modern society.

Perhaps in the moment, a controversy can seem overbearing or unnecessary but in time, the opposite has been found to be true.  From the offensive and stunning has come a greater understanding of human nature, what we feel is moral, and lessons about living life.  Matisse mistakenly let his ego get the best of him from Picasso's work and it led to his eventual downfall.  What he sadly missed was an opportunity to excel and to further the modern movement which he felt was important.  By allowing himself to see this controversy from only one side, he ignored the ingenuity and creativity that set forth a new era of artistic expression of which he could have ushered in himself.  In this case, ignorance wasn't all that blissful.

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