The obligation of being human


Watching Simon Schama's Power of Art (my Sunday night destination viewing), tonight's subject is Picasso.

Of course we all know the story of Picasso. As a child he could draw like Raphael (we know that because he told us), and spent his life trying to draw like a child (ditto).

I have to admit my knowledge of Picasso is partisan. I read a biography some time ago that was, shall we say, less than flattering: Life with Picasso by his lover Francoise Gilot - worth a look though. I have always admired the prolific volume of his work. Quality and quantity irrelevant except as a stepping stone from one stage to another. That reminds me of another story, one about fashion designer Ossie Clark. Clark was quite the man about town (London) in the sixties. He clad the Rolling Stones in swirling, sexually ambiguous chiffon, he made buckets of money. Then he spent it. Sex. Drugs. Rock and Roll. Years later, diminished he arrived at the home of his friend David Hockney. When Vanity Fair interviewed the painter and asked why he had succeeded and Ossie Clark had burned out Hockney said (and I paraphrase from memory) "The difference is this. I have painted on the foot of my bed: Get Up And Paint". In my view Hockney is probably Picasso's successor. Prolific, versatile, genuinely capable.
Ossie Clark by David Hockney

Simon Schama's show's motif this evening was Guernica, Picasso's masterpiece. Guernica is an astonishing painting. Painted for the Paris Exhibition of 1937. It was received with admiration bordering on indifference. Schama makes the point (an important one) that even as early as 1937 we had developed a thick skin for terror. We take it for granted - unless is serves a purpose. Why can the United States ignore genocide in Darfur or Bosnia but not the insult of the attack on the twin towers - the toll of which is small by comparison? (No less for each family or individual concerned but they are in the thousands rather than hundreds of thousands)
Like Guernica the images paraded on television every night makes us more indifferent (well, there are cats up trees to cover).

Have we come to take everything for granted? Is the real curse of novelty that something even more horrible will happen tomorrow and, instead of giving it out worthy attention, we will focus on the trivia of consumption?

Where is the art that changes our perceptions?

Guerinica Pablo Picasso

Isn't it when the bombs are dropping that we realise what art is for?

Simon Schama's Power of Art

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