Pablo Picasso’s infamous painting, The Old Guitarist, is an enduring work of art that has elicited countless hours of analysis and interpretation from art lovers around the world. The subject’s gaze, body language and focal object (the guitar) work both in tandem and against the other formal elements of the painting, such as its color, lighting, lines and spacing. Analyzing these elements will help us to discover how they work together or conflict to create interpretive meaning for the painting’s beholder.
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To begin, let’s look at the painting’s subject and object -- the old man and his guitar. The old man’s body language is stiff, rigid and uncomfortable looking. He is bony and frail. His head is angled sharply downward, his blind, gaze-less eyes squinting in perhaps pain, careful listening to the music or even a bitter memory to which he plays his guitar. The painting’s color scheme reflects the tone of anguish or discomfort that emerges from the old man’s body language. The background is set in monochromatic shades of black, gray and blue, reflecting the old man’s shabby dark clothing, silver hair and blue-gray, old skin. The color scheme works in tandem with the old man’s painful body language and weak physical features to suggest an atmosphere of stagnation, misery, deprivation and pain. The little use of lighting in the painting serves only to illuminate the guitarist’s old skin and frail, bony structure. Perhaps this guitarist is close to death, hence the muted background of his surroundings. He is withdrawing from life.
Standing in stark contrast to the guitarist is the guitar itself, which is the focal point of the painting. Though its color is also muted, its light, neutral color stands in stark contrast to the guitarist’s dreary, cool color tones. The guitar’s spacing is centered and positioned in front of the guitarist, its lines smooth and robust, which stands in stark contrast against the sharp lines of the man’s bony structure. It’s position within the painting and its contrasting color and lines make the guitar the prominent focal point of this rather dreary work of art, almost as if to suggest that the music is the heart and soul of the scene. As the old guitarist withers away, the strings he gently plucks on the guitar breathe life into music and song.