Picasso the Chameleon

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Dada and surrealism made their appearance in the world of European art at around the same time. Dada, which appeared in Zurich from 1915-1922, was nihilistic and viewed as a way of life and a state of mind. It grew out of the disgust and disillusionment following World War I. The dictionary says that artists “searched to discover an authentic reality through the abolition of traditional cultural and aesthetic forms [emphasis added] by techniques of comic derision in which irrationality, chance, and intuition were the guiding principles.” The “abolition of form” is the artist’s intuitional and prophetic sense of the need to transcend the illusion of form and move to a higher, transcendent reality.

Surrealism can be traced to Paris in 1924 and it was positive in spirit and viewed as a state of mind and a way of life. Both Dada and Surrealism were anti-rationalist and concerned with creating effects that were incongruous and shocking. Their purpose was to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dreams and reality into an absolute reality, a super reality. We can see the coincidence of the influence of the theories of both Freud and Jung and what Jung called “individuation” and Surrealism’s striving for a super reality which can be understood as an unconscious striving for Self-realization.

Picasso’s career was too long, he was too much of an explorer and finally too independent to join or remain in any one “movement” but he related to the Surrealists for a short time.

“Picasso’s juggling with form found support at that period in another new movement that had emerged from Dada: Surrealism. In [the] summer [of] 1923 Picasso met the leader of the movement, the writer Andre Breton, and did an etching of him. In 1924 Breton published the first Surrealist Manifesto. In it he proposed that the subconscious was a more valid mode of perceiving reality than rational thought and sense. He advocated dreams and the visions of madness as an alternative to reason. He was inspired by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic writings, and by the poetry of Rimbaud, Mallarme, Lautréamont and Apollinaire, from whose work the label of the new movement was indirectly derived.

“Surrealism’s aim was to reveal the subconscious realm of dreams by exploring avenues opened up by psychoanalysis. It disregarded the causal order of the perceptible world and set out to counter it with an unlimited use of the irrational. In this way, individual life would undergo a revolutionary transformation: feeling and expressive potential would be infinitely enhanced and extended.

“One of their points of reference was also Picasso, as a pioneer of art and inventor of new methods. His playful approach to the meaning of form, his loose disdain for convention, made him appear a fellow spirit.”[i]   

However, “reality” is not found in either the rational or irrational world but in the transcendent world. It appears Surrealists are stuck in P-B. 

Picasso the Chameleon

[i]     Walther, Ingo F. [ed.]. Pablo Picasso 1881-1973. Hong Kong. Taschen. 2006, pages 325-327. 


Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry. 

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