Art and Movies on a Summer-like Afternoon, or, 1900s Science Fiction?

A lovely Sunday with a high, or so has said the Weather Channel, just hitting eighty degrees.  A precursor of summer?  But meanwhile the Indiana University Art Museum in conjunction with the IU Cinema offered “Art and a Movie,” an afternoon that began with a lecture at the museum followed by the short feature film (about 62 minutes) “Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies.”  Movies, movies.  But Picasso loved the movies, it seems, and both his and Braque’s invention of cubism, after meeting each other in Paris in 1907, were both influenced by and, in a sense, an answer to the new art form of the motion picture.

To quote the brochure:  PICASSO AND BRAQUE GO TO THE MOVIES — produced by acclaimed director and film historian Martin Scorsese and Robert Greenhut — looks at the connections between early motion pictures and the development of the revolutionary art movement known as Cubism.  Narrated by Scorsese with interviews with art and film historians and contemporary artists including Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel, Lucas Samaras, Robert Whitman, and Eric Fischl, as well as a wealth of rare film clips.  And, to continue, as a sort of bridge Demoisellesbetween lecture (including early prints in the museum’s collection) and show, [T]he documentary will be preceded by BALLET MÉCANIQUE, an early experimental art film by the Cubist artist Fernand Léger.

I have trouble describing movies like this, except I can say if you’re a lover of early cinema, this is a film you shouldn’t miss — that is, if you can find it!   (It is available on DVD with Amazon prices starting in the $12.00 range.)  The discussion in large part is on the effects of what amounted to a technological revolution, but also, of course, with the movies themselves.  While not the only ones seen by the artists a number of clips are from Georges Méliès who, with others, presented illusions much as a magician might through various editing tricks, tricks which the Cubists used in their own way in changing their, and our, perception of space and motion.  Thus a guitar is seen from a number of views at once, to imply the whole, but all in a flat plane in lieu of perspective.  Thus motion is suggested, again through multiple glances, in paintings like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Indeed a suggestion in the film, when viewing Cubist art, is to look at the elements in the work as if they were moving.  This even with much early Cubist work concentrating on still lifes, but again with multiple views of an object, as if one were oneself walking through the scene being depicted.  But more than that, at a time in itself being defined by change, in this case from more or less 1900 to 1914 and the advent of World War I, both art and film, as a part of this change, did their part to make the public feel it in terms of its possibility — much as science fiction, for instance, later may have done to prepare for the Space Age.

And as for the art, the change itself was a radical one not just in form, but, as one might argue, in vision itself.

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  1. Maybe I’d enjoy the movie, Jim. Ironically, though I do admire a lot of Picasso’s works –the Ladies of A. really doesn’t appeal to me in any repect. I’ve been viewing it since a teen and I’ve an MA in Fine Art.

    To each, their own!

    • Hi Marge! There are others I prefer too (though not necessarily Cubist), but its mention in context wasn’t my call, it being noted specifically in both lecture and film — and especially in connection with Braque. This, from Wikipedia: “Braque too initially disliked the painting, yet perhaps more than anyone else, studied the work in great detail. And effectively, his subsequent friendship and collaboration with Picasso led to the Cubist revolution.” The moral may be that a pioneer work may be flawed but still be the one quoted for historical rather than aesthetic reasons.




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