Home > Art History, Shellie Lewis' Art, Uncategorized > What Picasso Meant to Teach Us

What Picasso Meant to Teach Us

“Art is not meant to decorate apartment walls, but to wage war against the enemy.”  ~Pablo Picasso

Picasso’s greatest dictate, from the man who gave us Guernica and stood up to Nazi officers in Paris -not metaphorically or ideologically, but face-to-face, in person – was to use art.  Certainly the turn of the century Art Noveau left a great deal of beauty in the city of Paris, but it was decorative art: beauty for beauty’s sake, going no further than aesthetically enriching the area it occupied.  That was not good enough for Picasso.  Picasso did not want to see art become ornamental.  It was to be a vehicle for understanding and communication.

I have taken this idea one step further to believe that any art that has a use beyond its content is also a tool.  The art created does not have to have a particular social or political message or decreed purpose inherent to its expression but can still be used as tool to wage war.  For me, this has been through the donations I have made of traditional, more decorative art works that have sold to raise funds on behalf of good causes.  Money is a more facile tool to help these causes, but I do not have money to donate.  I have talent which I use to leverage the resources I do have to help reach the money earning goals of the non-profits and charities.  I do not have to do this; I could argue that I am resisting mass manufacturing and machine culture by engaging in creating the handmade being a political gesture unto itelf, but that is not good enough for me.

There are millions of artists making millions of artworks out there in the world this very minute, and I have to look at my work and ask “What does it do?”  It needs a purpose.  Anyone can go and stick a drawing or a painting on the wall.  My more traditional works have their own narratives behind them and are largely skills based; they are pretty but not high concept.  I am glad to have found a way to put them to work out in the world.  Even if the work I have donated is a somewhat precious floral painting or banal still life, a commonplace nature painting or abstract color work, it accomplishes something by bringing attention and money to a cause.  There are a lot of things to declare war on: poverty, cancer, cruelty, unnecessary deaths, and a thousand other injustices.  Some of my works are overtly political and go to war head on; I will never apologize for that.  The quieter art works, the ones that your grandmother would not object to, have their marching orders and are in a flanking maneuver in their own garrison.

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  1. February 5, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    GREAT POST! Agree with you 100%! Art MUST DO SOMETHING! Thank you! YES!

    • February 6, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Thanks, Peach Farm! Also, thank you for being a reader.

      Maybe it’s a Chicago thing, but I’m getting pretty tired of the pomposity. Too many people want to be a big fish in a little pond. Allegedly, things are supposed to be more ‘down to earth’ here than in NYC, Miami or LA. I keep running into ego maniacs that want to be the next rock star artist and think they’re God’s gift to the art world. I think it’s fair enough if you want to work as an artist and have enough money to live on. I am not earning anything at this point, so if anyone who does pull that off, making some kind of living income, more power to them. If the be-all, end-all purpose of your work is to just pay the rent, you stuck it on the wall or pedestal and someone bought it, and nothing else is EVER accomplished -well… insert [golf clap] here. It just seems shallow and self aggrandizing to me. Being self-aggrandizing is also arrogant. Just because you are the hot stuff now or your work sells for big millions does not guarantee it will be liked, valued or relevant a century from now. Too many artists imagine they are building Khufu’s pyramid. We can only know what we are accomplishing now. The future is a hope, imaginary. What if people in the future melt down Jeff Koon’s work to reuse the steel? What if they decide that museums will be better re-purposed as low income dormitory housing?

      The ideology of art as a tool might be a deficit on my part because I’m clearly buying into the role of the artist as a cultural free radical and social engineer. I have a historical basis for this that is very current. All of the earliest advertising professionals came from art backgrounds. Advertising evolved from art and dominates the visual environment. Advertising is pervasive; it is everywhere. It is powerful to an incalculable extent in how much it has shaped people’s beliefs, visual culture and society at large. To quote Sut Jhally, advertising has pulled off its greatest hoax, to make us believe advertising is innocuous and does not control or affect us. Commercial communications are at a level of expertise that they can in one impression or thirty seconds of television, embed themselves in our memory. They control us, particularly children, making us want things, making us believe the overall message that products work, making us believe that life should be a certain way, that purchasing the correct products will bring us health and happiness and that anything less that total health and happiness is abnormal. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that much raw, unadulterated power, but I clearly understand the ways I am culturally dominated by it.

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