Summary of Synthetic Cubism
In an attempt to account for the most important advances in avant-garde art made by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris, historians have tended to split the Cubist movement into two key phases: Analytic Cubism and Synthetic Cubism. Most scholars are agreed that the former covers a two-year period that ended around 1912 and by which time it had evolved into what became known as Synthetic Cubism. Through experiments in collage using newspaper print and printed patterns, the Synthetic Cubists moved away from the multi-perspective (Analytic) approach in favor of "flattened out" images that all-but dispensed with their earlier allusions to three-dimensional space. Synthetic Cubism embraced a broader palette, simpler geometric planes, and more representable subject matter too. To achieve its ends, Synthetic Cubism brought together - or "synthesized" - a variety of mixed media through collage and its signature papier collé technique. Synthetic Cubism is thought to have peaked by 1914 when World War One took many French artists (including Braque) away from their studios to fight in the conflict.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- The revolutionary practice of presenting mundane materials as fine art introduced a more relaxed and more playful aesthetic option for the artists involved. This is not to imply, however, that Synthetic Cubism lacked conceptual rigor. Indeed, the prefix "synthetic" referred to the idea that by juxtaposing fragments from the real world with the painterly the artist creates a synthesis; something completely new out of a marriage of seemingly incompatible elements.
- With papier collé, Synthetic Cubism took scraps from the material world and pasted them into the constructed world of painting and drawing. The technique of creating new structures out of the already familiar asked the viewer to consider, not just the content of the image, but also the texture, the color, and the materials of the work. The viewer was then invited to think about how these elements synthesised as a whole.
- Synthetic Cubism was a self-conscious attempt to "deintellectualize" fine art by appropriating objects and signs from the realms of commodity culture. It was, certainly for Picasso, a politicized art in that its "makeshift" quality presented an affront to the time-honoured values of the art establishment.
- Of the three men, it was Gris who produced Synthetic works that retained closest ties to what one might call "anti-pictorialism" (or abstraction). His works allowed for the methods of papier collé to develop more compositional depth and optical distortion than his esteemed colleagues. Gris, who believed that there was more to art than just replicating scenes from the bland material world, also drew on a more expressive palette to produce his works.
Overview of Synthetic Cubism
By 1912, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque had already embarked on an extraordinarily productive period of collaboration during which they had pioneered the early, and the Analytic phases of Cubism. For his part, Juan Gris, a friend and neighbour of his fellow countryman Picasso, had brought some of the Analytic technique into his own, more vibrant, Salon Cubism pieces. Though his junior by some seven years, Gris had earned the respect of Picasso (not to mention a suggestion, put by the author Gertrude Stein, that Picasso was even envious of Gris's talent), but while their temperaments often clashed, the two Spaniards were nevertheless engaged in passionate discussions about the future of Cubism. Indeed, Stein, who was a collector of works by Gris and Picasso, would suggest that Gris was the only artist that could annoy Picasso and this was because Gris was intent on revealing through his art what Picasso thought should remain inexplicable. Whatever their differences in personality, it was Picasso, Braque and Gris who would become the three great exponents of Synthetic Cubism.