Student Report: Picasso and His Times

Reported by Soumya Lahoti, Class of 2025

October 7, 2022, 18:00 – 18:30
This lecture was part of the 2022 Humanities Fall Conference: Ciencia y Caridad.

Patricia Leighten presented an excellent commentary on the depths of Picasso’s psyche, live from Canada. Picasso has been called the most important artist of the last century. He was particularly influential on subsequent and contemporary art practices.

Leighten walks us through the stages of Picasso’s life, from his early works, to where he practiced art in Barcelona and Paris, his Blue and Rose periods, Cubism, and Surrealism. We also learn about how Picasso’s art responded in radical ways to the social and political forces of his times, as well as to the philosophical and aesthetic issues of the rapidly changing period that were spanned by his life and his work.

Leighten started by showing us a 20th-century realism painting of a poor woman getting treated by a doctor. This painting turned Picasso into a Spanish nationalist. Politics were important in shaping Picasso and his weapons of expression were drawing and color. He identified himself as a true revolutionary.

Picasso’s earlier drawings were mostly academic exercises, like a torso or a foot; they were excellent and even more so considering he was 14. His earlier drawings were masterpieces. This thoroughly disproved the argument that Picasso painted in abstract as he could not do “real” art. As Picasso himself said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

We were regaled with the stories of many of his paintings, such that in Café 4 cats in Barcelona, a replica of that image still found. It portrayed the four founders in its egalitarian structure, in harmony with the universe. Prominent among the ones we learned about was a drawing by a well-known radical Catalan artist who was very influential on Picasso. Monet was a major influence on Picasso, who inspired his fluid, caricature-type treatment of the figure.

This presentation was like we were inside Picasso’s brain. His Blue period was brought on due to his depression over a friend committing suicide suddenly, which was another ride into his mental state. Picasso was also a highly empathetic individual. He painted people no one would ever choose as their models and gave them dignity in his paintings. A woman drinking alone, a prostitute, a poor mother and her child, social outcasts, and little people were all subjects of Picasso. He painted them with elegance, using less distortion in a lovely rose color, making them beautiful.

Leighten later discussed how Picasso viewed his art education. He was a prodigy at 14 and was sent to the top art schools. He vehemently disliked traditional art and wanted to do something different. He later used an African art form to develop Cubism. We learned more hands-on later at the private tour of the Picasso museum, followed by the gala reception.