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Pablo Picasso is a talented 20th century artist who has over 20,000 pieces of work to his name, most of which are impressive expressionist paintings that are now considered as masterpieces in respect of cubism, expressionism and other styles. When looking at Picasso’s works, it is important to note his expressionist inclinations. Most of his artworks are a message about the experiences and observations relevant to his life as an artist. The Old Guitarist is an oil on panel painting showing an old and frail man in a cramped space. This particular painting has an interesting story and an equally interesting interpretation that usually depends on the audience. Although it is not a part of Picasso’s defiant cubist collection, The Old Guitarist can be described as a masterpiece, created with a perfect use of formal elements that hint at the possible audience’s interpretations. This essay analyzes Pablo Picasso’s painting, The Old Guitarist, examining a number of aspects such as iconography, how formal elements were used, the medium, the format and scale of work among other aspects.
The Old Guitarist is a painting of an old, sightless, rather impoverished and lonely man who is holding a guitar. The man in the painting is very thin and frail, and he looks like belonging to a deprived part of society. The iconography of this particular painting rests with its placement in the Blue Period, when Picasso was overwhelmed by his friend’s suicide and expressed his feelings like grief, pain and solitude in his works. This generally means that the old man in the painting, his stature in terms of how frail he looks, the fact that he is alone, and his skeleton-like figure are means of communicating the somberness of the whole situation. Indeed, while it cannot be stated that the artist was depressed at the time, most of his works present a state of depression or rather scenes and subjects that are likely to depress the audience. The old man, looking frail and lonely, also has rather oddly-looking limbs. He looks deformed in some way, depicting some crippling elements in the whole subject of this Blue Period painting. This manner of painting could have been used to indicate that the old man was cramped in a small confined space, as well as to show the limitations some people experience within society. From the portrait, the type of iconography dominant here is semi-peaceful; this type of iconography is yet to be covered in class.
How the Artist Used Formal Elements to Render the Subject
Space, color and texture are the formal elements, used categorically in this painting when considering the subject. The old man is in a confined space, as seen from his cramped form. Therefore, in this case, Picasso used space to communicate the sadness and possible suffocation that the old man is forced to live with. The crippling limits to his space gave him the look of deformation in his limbs, thus further emphasizing the feeling of sadness and solitude. Regarding color, it can be noted that the whole painting only has one color, blue. Besides the fact that the painting belongs to Picasso’s blue period, it also should be noted that the single color presents a lot of sadness as well. The fact that everything around the old man, except for his guitar, is in blue, indicates certain harshness and major limitations in the scene. And as for texture, one can see that the old man in the painting looks bony with rugged features. Such texture presents him as a weak and frail man, with no access to better life standards. All these features help the viewers to define the old guitarist’s situation in life.
The Old Guitarist is an oil on panel painting and it cannot be considered as unusual. This is basically because the painting is a part of the painter’s larger Blue Period collection. It follows in the same style as many other of his paintings, including the Blue Nude among others. However, the medium used in the painting is significant for the interpretation of the portrait in the sense that it enhances the aspect of emotion in the artwork.
The Format and Scale of the Work
The subject in this painting is mainly a strong vertical, since the old man in the painting has long emaciated limbs and he seems taller than normal. It can be stated that the format of this work is a vertical rectangle, larger than life size. Everything about the old man looks elongated and thin. The emphasis here can thus be seen in the scale used to make the old man look more emaciated than he may actually have been in a square and life size painting.
What the Iconography and Intended Location of the Work Say about the Work's Function
This work features an old man in a very cramped position, meaning that he is probably in a very tiny space. This implies that the work was an expression of the artist’s criticism of the society in which he lived. After losing his close friend, Picasso was deliberating about a lot of things within the society, especially the plight of the poor and the forgotten. He himself had just gone through a difficult time in 1902, and seemed to have a firsthand experience at what it meant to be poor and wanting. Thus, this work serves as an expression of the state of mind and the kind of thoughts that Picasso was having after his friend had committed suicide. And while it ties in well with the artist’s own experiences, it is more a projection of the society with the use of oil on panel medium.
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