Tuesday, August 19, 2014

64 x 19-20 (Picasso: Woman Writing)

Picasso: Woman Writing

A woman sits writing, or perhaps drawing. She is indoors; behind her are what might be windows or a door. She is rendered in contrasting colors: green and gold hair, pink neck, blue and green for her breasts, purple hands. We see her face simultaneously from the front and from the side. Her crescent eyes are closed or downcast, as if she is contemplating.

As so often in Picasso, the effect of the fragmentation of the face is to suggest an inward struggle, as if the writer of were two minds: considering, weighing, essaying, considering what she writes from multiple points of view, thinking things through. The lines on the paper, however, are uniform and converge on a single point: complex thought taking a clarified, distilled, simplified shape.

Process Reflection: There's a very basic one-two writing and thinking exercise that I used to ask my students, at the start of the semester, to practice. It's a very simple but powerful little template: 1) tell me what you see and 2) tell me what you think about what you see. 

I ran across this painting the other day—yet another Picasso I had never seen, confirming for me, if any confirmation were needed, his brilliance as a colorist, as a psychologist, as an innovator, as an artist who could do whatever he wanted to do and dared to do more than anyone before or since. Not to mention prolific. I put the picture on my desktop, intending to spend some time just looking at it. 

It's coming up on the beginning of the new school year (the high school down the street starts classes tomorrow.) This is the first fall in 45 years that I will not be waiting in the classroom for a new group of students to arrive, and I've been thinking some about that.

Tonight, as it came time to write, I decided to do the one-two exercise for myself, as a sort of private salute to the new year, and at the same time hold myself to 64-word blocks I've been playing with here on Throughlines of late. The word limit artificializes the writing process to some degree, but it keeps the task within achievable boundaries (I would otherwise have written much more, and probably not completed it tonight, if at all) and forces me to compress, and to weigh and pay attention to each word. 

I love how this painting captures the difficulty and psychodynamics of putting thoughts into words. (Or drawings. Or paintings.) But I also love how the physical beauty of the painting—those colors! those fluid lines!—speaks to or embodies the redemptive, even salvific, aspects of composition. This is a woman, composing, who is herself composed: still, centered, present, here.

And as long as I'm rattling on about Picasso and about teaching, I'll close with another of my favorites, which pretty much sums up my view of what teaching is about:

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