Fig. 6 Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avigon, 1907 |
Firstly, the painting's overall composition is circular. The women are framed by drapery which cuts the corners of the painting's border. The flexibility of the cloth acts as a contrast to the linear rigidity of the border. It provides a depth - detaching the women from this accessible symmetrical shape. Observers are initially drawn to the figures due to this illusion. Yet, when they refrain, wishing to comprehend the overall composition, they are confronted with the symmetrical circularity of the painting. The eye dilates to perceive a circular frame rather than the relatively harsh border, the observer experiences a 'sudden sensation of calmness' (Symmetry, Casuality, Mind, p.519, 1992). Within this primary circle operate other circles at differing scales (Fig. 7). Picasso evocatively marks these on the canvas (Fig. 7a,b,c). Here, the artist is ensuring that every focalization on asymmetrical properties, experienced by the observer, is countered by the 'calmness' brought about by culturally defined symmetry or 'beauty of form'.
|Fig. 7 Examples of circular composition in Picasso's Les Demmoiselles d' Avigon|
The 'oval' is also significant in the composition of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Fig. 8). The shape's prominent geometric feature is a distention along one of its axes. Unlike the circle, an oval then does not allow the eye to dilate so freely. The 'calmness' or passivity of a perceived-circle is not experienced. The action of distension in these ovals evoke the 'tangle of energies' (Cubism and Twentieth Century Art, p.25, 1976) inherent in the women's provoking stance - most prominately seen in the centre and centre left figures' stretch. The women do not represent a distancing from the sexually repressive Victorian mind. This liberty is already acheived in the painting. The passivity of their glance suggests a gathering free from psychological 17recriminations.Fig. 8 Examples of oval composition.
Fig. 8 Examples of oval |
The overall circularity of the painting is decentered through the action of 18asymmetrical properties in the work, for example, Figure 9. A Western observer, confined to a discourse that negates such irregularity, may interpret the shapes pejoratively. Robert Rosenblum describes them rightly as 'the savagery of the picture', (Cubism and the Twentieth Century, p.16) - the effect on the the viewer is disquiet. Asymmetry then is involved in a dynamic relationship with symmetry. The 'calmness' equated with symmetrical stimuli refuses habituation by the brain because it is consistently disrupted by the 'savagery' of irregularity; 'disquiet' refuses habituation consistently disrupted by 'calmness'. Like symmetry, asymmetry is ordered by self-similairity in the painting. It enables reflectaphoric tension to fuction on every scale of focalization on the image, thereby increasing its intensity.
Fig. 9 Examples of |
Les Demoiselles d'Avigon indicates a transition from traditional to modernist forms of representation.
'[If] the Family of Saltimbanques is the last picture of the nineteenth century
then certainly Les Demoiselles is the first of the twentieth.'
( Cubism and the Twentieth Century, p. 15)
We understand that ambiguities brought about by a fusion of the symmetry/asymmetry dichotomy, relates to the ambiguities prevelent in a period of cultural change. Such fusion is futher intensified by the effect of the 'oval'. By composing the two centre and lower right figures' disposition from a oval framework, the 'calmness' of the symmetrical unites with the 'energy' of distention. Hence a deterritorialization of the passive/active dichotomy. Ambiguity is emphasized in the three peripheral nudes. The rigidity of the geometric border is eroded as their bodies are merged with the drapery. Notice the continuity of shading in the seated women's anatomy and the arcs of the drapery; the disembodiment of the upper right woman's breasts; the far left woman's leg is swallowed in cloth. These figures represent the inseparability of the subject to Other. In doing so they decenter the significance of the Euclidean border. Just as the figures exist in the paradoxical 'space ... within and without and as the border' of the Other, the observer also endures a process of fractal complexity. By this I mean, s/he perceives a finite array of sense-data: the picture is 243.9 ì¡ 233.7cm. Yet, the scaling self-similairity in it allows every focalization on particular aspects of the painting to be met with the same degree of reflectaphoric tension. The observer therefore experiences an ongoing deterritorialization of the dichotomies represented - or more specifically their own territorial couplings. This means the reflectaphoric tension itself is not structurd by linearity. It undergoes a process of potentially infinite fractal-like complexification or folding.
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