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Picasso, Guitar

A conversation between Salman Khan and Steven Zucker about Pablo Picasso's sculpture, Guitar and related work, 1912-14 at The Museum of Modern Art

"I have seen what no man has seen before. When Pablo Picasso, leaving aside painting for a moment, was constructing this immense guitar out of sheet metal whose plans could be dispatched to any ignoramus in the universe who could put it together as well as him, I saw Picasso's studio, and this studio, more incredible than Faust's laboratory, this studio which, according to some, contained no works of art, in the old sense, was furnished with the newest of objects... Some witnesses, already shocked by the things that they saw covering the walls, and that they refused to call paintings because they were made of oilcloth, wrapping paper, and newspaper, said, pointing a haughty finger at the object of Picasso's clever pains: "What is it? Does it rest on a pedestal? Does it hang on a wall? What is it, painting or sculpture?' Picasso, dressed in the blue of Parisian artisans, responded in his finest Andalusian voice: 'It's nothing, it's el guitare!'; And there you are! The watertight compartments are demolished. We are delivered from painting and sculpture, which already have been liberated from the idiotic tyranny of genres. It is neither this nor that. It is nothing. It's el guitare!" (André Salmon, New French Painting, August 9, 1919)

Created by Beth Harris, Steven Zucker, and Sal Khan.

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  • female robot grace style avatar for user divaCassandra1
    I quite enjoy these conversations between Sal and Dr Zucker.
    Dr. Z, Are any more planned?
    Fellow students, What art would you like to see being covered with this type of conversation?
    (24 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    I think Sal tends not to give art a chance that he doesn't have an immediate connection to. I think many people may do that though so it is nothing against Sal personally, but the fact that he couldn't fathom anything "good" about Malevich's "White on white" meanwhile he "plays the guitar and keeps it in his room" so he "gets" this....well...I just don't "get" that sort of opinion about art....

    To put it in Sal's corner...if I tried to do a math problem and don't find it "fun" at first and gave up...I think would be similar to how he has discussed certain works of art on this program. He is brutally honest and I appreciate that part of his opinion a lot. That said, I think we all could be a little more patient with our understanding of art as well as learn some of the back story that goes into works of art that helps to establish our understanding of an abstract works meaning...
    (8 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Maria Paula Sarri
      I agree! I am really used to the talks between Dr.Zucker and Dr.Harris and when I watch a talk with Sal, I feel like my expectations are broken and I try to understand art in a much simpler and maybe a more ignorant way (not in a bad way). It shows me that to understand art I have to be patient and study, that it's not something natural to be an expert and that's okay.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user David Pappert
    Has anybody mentioned that the volume of the two speakers is so different that it is very difficult to set volume levels that are consistently comfortable. It really distracts from these conversations
    (3 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user chxxlie
    Picasso generally doesn't do anything for me but I like this and should maybe check out more of his sculpture.

    Regarding his portrayal of different perspectives in a single space, is he trying to capture a feeling of movement around the object (as if we're circling it, for example), or is he trying to achieve a feeling of being in different places at the same time around a single focal point?
    (2 votes)
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user Z. A. de Bruyn
    I'm really glad that the class I'm doing includes this work by Picasso (as well as Still Life with Chair Caning and The Reservoir). Previous to my knowledge of these pieces, all I knew of Picasso were his portraits. I never liked the portraits, but I'm fascinated by Picasso's collages, landscapes, and still life works, especially where those formats intersect.

    I wonder if anyone else had a similar aversion to Picasso's portrayal of the human form/face, and a similar sort of... I don't know. An abiding appreciation of Picasso's work regarding nonhuman figures.
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user SteveSargentJr
    Did Picasso ever use drafting tools or were all of his drawings freehand?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

(lively music) Sal: What are we looking at here? Steven: This is a sculpture by Pablo Picasso. It dates to 1912, called Guitar, made out of sheet metal that Picasso cut and crimped and folded. Sal: This one is awesome. It's just a fascinating thing to look at. It's something that ... I mean, a guitar is never a mundane thing. That's what's fun about it. If you put a guitar on your wall, it inspires you. I like to leave my guitar in the corner of my room. It makes me always want to be more creative. This takes it to another level. It takes this idea of a guitar, and it's very recognizable as a guitar. I mean, it really plays with the geometry of the guitar. The things that you think would pop out are popping in, and things that are popping in are popping out. But still, fundamentally it has the idea of its guitarness: the strings don't cross, where you ... I mean, it's definitely not a functional guitar, but it definitely conveys what a guitar is. So, at least aesthetically, I get this. Steven: I think Picasso is applauding your interpretation. When you think about sculpture, what comes to mind? What kinds of subjects have you seen in sculpture? Sal: More classical sculpture, which is the Venus de Milo, and then you have the more geometric types of sculptures. Steven: More modern scupltures; absolutely. Now, this is something that was made in 1912. When it was made, I think that that more classical kind of sculpture that you were referring to is really what there was. They were sculptures of the human body. Occasionally, there might be a piece of armor, there might be some drapery that was sculpted, there might be a horse, but sculpture was always about something that existed in nature, something that was not man-made. Nobody had made a sculpture of a guitar because we make guitars. Sal: Right. Steven: Picasso could become a luthier. He could just make a guitar. Sal: No; I fully appreciate that. I think that this is challenging people's notion of art. As you just pointed out, that seems counterintuitive to make a representation of something that we already make, and we can make it very well and represent it perfectly. Here is intentionally representing the essence of the thing without making the thing. Steven: How can he create a visual vocabulary that represents the thing while not in any way constructing that thing? He has to be really deliberate. He has to make sure that that finger board can't actually work, otherwise he's making a finger board. He's not making a sculpture. Sal: No, you're exactly right. You can probably remove several of the guitar-like cues and it would still very clearly be a guitar. But I definitely appreciate this. I definitely, I think, get this. Steven: Think about what's happening at this moment, his understanding of art making his coming out of the 19th Century, when photography had really released artists from the responsibility of having to depict. Now, if art is moved to the sort of second level, which is let's focus on the language of depiction as opposed to depiction itself. Take a look at one of the things that makes it most clear that this is a guitar. Look at the contours of the body of the guitar. That S-curve on both sides. Do you notice how they're not the same scale? Sal: Absolutely; yeah. Steven: Picasso does this kind of thing in a lot of drawings at this time, late 1911-1912. Because the right side is smaller, a lot of historians suggested that Picasso is actually representing a guitar not flat against the wall, but actually turned slightly in space. Sal: Yeah, I definitely see that. We're looking at all angles of the guitar at once. Steven: This scuplture is actually coming out of the series of collages that Picasso has been making. It's this funny thing where you have the idea of the guitar, a three-dimensional, real thing in the world, which then he collapses into the realm of drawing that represent the thing in space. Then, he literally cuts those things out and reconstructs this in three dimensions. In fact, the very first version was made out of paper, from the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional and then back to the three-dimensional. Sal: I think it's fascinating. (lively music)