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The Cubist Movement

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Cubist movement can be described as an artist style that originated from France during the 20th century under stewardship of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. It is thought to have occurred in two stages, analytical (1907-1912) and synthetic (1913-1920). Its characteristics were a departure from the traditional European painting in regard to expression of artistic form and it borrowed some aspects of African painting. As such, this paper aims to discuss stylistic elements of cubism in an effort to show how Picasso, a leader of the movement, departed from traditional European painting and assimilated some artistic aspects of African art.

The principal elements of cubism included patchy surfaces, two-dimensional and flat geometric shapes. In addition, the way these elements were used by analytic cubists varied to that of synthetic cubists. For instance, Picasso’s painting ‘Dernoisells d`Avigon”, which was done during the analytic phase, emphasized breakdown of geometric shapes to crate volume and use of monochromatic schemes of color. On the other hand, synthetic cubists combined various geometric shapes to create paintings that were characterized by decorative schemes of color, use of multi-perspectives and robustness. A best example in this stage is the “Still Life with Chair Caning”, which was done by Picasso in 1912 (Burghgraef). Moreover, combinations of shapes in these paintings were achieved through redrawing of geometric planes using different viewpoints. As such, this was a departure from traditional European paintings in which form in artistic works was achieved through use of single geometric plane drawn using single viewpoint. The use of various perspectives to create space also departed from the ancient way of creating space through distortion of pictures.

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Picasso incorporated aspects of African art in his paintings, a characteristic example being the anatomical aspect of African masks that are observed in his Demoiselles d`Avignon painting (Gantefuhrer-Trier 1906). In African art, these masks, which were wood carvings, were meant for ritual practices and as such, they were created in motion and surrounded by decorative garments. It was this departure from traditional European art of the masks that influenced Picasso’s cubist ideas. Instead of using distortions used by the Africans to show aspects of an object, Picasso in the aforementioned painting used jagged planes to express the same.                          

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