by Jared Meyer
The goal of artistic expression- to recreate the world as it is uniquely seen by the artist- has remained relatively consistent throughout history. While there were changes in style, form, and content, nothing was as disruptive to art as photography (in the early to mid 1800’s).
Humans- armed with the power to replicate objects with increasing accuracy- were forced to develop a new artistic approach. The battle for the best continues to play out to this day. But one movement, Cubism, stands apart by recreating the world as we see it in the most comprehensive manner. Cubism should be embraced in the modern art era as an approach that truly recreates the world in the way that human beings come to understand it.
Cubist artists move beyond copying still frame. Instead, they focus on depicting our environment as it is truly seen, by breaking down objects into their basic forms and then portraying them as they would be viewed from multiple perspectives.
When humans come to know something, it’s never from a single, fixed perspective. Rather, a holistic view of a situation is necessary—one involving different viewpoints and methods of understanding. We dive into sense-experiences and perceive facts, which are then used to paint our picture of larger reality.
This last step in observation (integration) is crucial since we want, as the common expression goes, to see the forest from the trees. This is where many modern art movements lose their way. They focus on a singular aspect or idea—or deliberately focus on nothing at all—and miss the larger relationship with reality on a whole.
Traditional art falls short of the demands of human reason since people can never truly understand, much less appreciate, reality if they can only view it from a single perspective. An object appears differently based on how viewers approach it. A chair does not look the same when observed from above and from the side.
Also, because of our individuality, each person chooses to value certain aspects of objects over others. While one person may see the fabric on a chair’s seat first, another could notice the structural design of its back. This same example could work for a single person depending on their mood or outside influences.
Taking all of this into account, how can Cubism best fulfill its artistic promise? Before this question can be answered, a brief history of the movement is necessary:
Cubism can be split into two distant phases—analytic and synthetic. Analytic cubism, taken to its fruition, created an indecipherable conglomerate of lines. To push back against this, synthetic cubism incorporated more color and strips of material (often newspaper, cloth, or wood) to create a collage effect.
However, some synthetic artists lost the movement’s original insight. Their depictions lacked depth and often did not include the multiple, shifting perspectives of objects that define the style. They were regressing rather than continuing to develop a radical movement.
To flourish as an art form, Cubism must avoid the pitfalls of extreme analytic cubism while incorporating the artistically desirable traits of synthetic cubism such as the use of diverse colors and the possibility of comprehending what is being depicted.
This can be done by appealing to an artist’s unique vision and talent. Instead of portraying every possible angle through which an object can be seen, an artist can structure their work around the unique process they employed while coming to fully understand what they recreate.
Cubism reflects the multi-faceted, yet objective, characteristics of truth, so it more thoroughly depicts how we actually come to understand reality. For this reason, the modern art movement should embrace Cubism. By doing so, art professionals and lay appreciators alike will enable a new generation of artists to build upon Cubism’s solid foundation while working to understand the classic issues art has perpetually struggled with.