Note: On April 8, 1973, artist Pablo Picasso died at his home near Mougins, France, at age 91.
I loved Picasso. I was a tow-headed eight-year-old in Fort Worth, Texas. Had there been a wall-sized poster of the shirtless, pot-bellied gray-haired painter, it would have hung among those of Steve McQueen and Peter Fonda.
Instead, I had a few LIFE Magazine photographs of the lusty artist drawing light in the air dog-eared and set aside in my parents’ magazine stack. He was the benign grandfather who knew LIFE at its best. He was the crazed but beloved uncle who struck out on his own terms and never looked back.
Freedom. Creating. Zest. Painting Your Own Path. My little eyes and mind took it all in.
It takes a lifetime to become young.
And I had the museum.
My mother, on her days off from work, shuttled me around each summer among Fort Worth’s impressive museums. They offered free entertainment and education, and before the paintings and sculptures and installments of painted flies, I stood enchanted and mystified. I liked best the Kimbell Museum – Louis Kahn’s structure of serial concrete shell-like vaults with a temple’s light leaking in from the arced ceiling. Going there was as holy as church.
At the time, the Kimbell, barely a year old, owned only one painting from the twentieth-century Modern period – its collection specializing in 17th-century Baroque. It was my favorite painting.
“Man with a Pipe” (1911). Someone could dare to make a puzzle of a painting.
Someone could do his own thing. And be revered for doing so. And make a fine living. I took it all in.
I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.
Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?
The year he died, my mother dared to take her nine-year-old son and his best friend to a Kimbell exhibit of Picasso’s sketches and notebook drawings. Mostly of robust nude women, some quite expressive. Sam and I were forbade to giggle. We giggled. We left.
Still, the human form could be adored in charcoal.
A life of love and adoration could be lived. I took it all in.
Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
19, a freshman at The University of Texas at Austin, I haunted the Fine Art Library. When I should have been studying economics or evolution, I flipped through large picture books that showed the round-faced, big-hearted man as the king of his castle of paintings.
So much promise and productivity in this one life. So many faces – to paint and to bear. I took it in.
One must act in painting as in life, directly.
Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.
Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.
1. Picasso innovated his technology. Just as young Pablo was mastering classic forms in his Blue and Rose periods, circa early 20th-century, along came Alfred Stieglitz and a handful of other photographers who made photography into an art form. Progress in optics during the 19th-century had already ushered in new art forms, but Picasso took note from African masks and other sources, and began breaking down perspective on the canvas from many angles. Are you questioning your medium? Are you pushing the limits of what your writing, your blog, your encaustics, your design, your camera can do? If not you, who?
2. Picasso never let a style strangle him. Attend a Picasso retrospective, and you’ll see an artist – like Miles Davis or David Bowie or David Byrne – constantly innovating upon himself and what’s happening around and within him. Are you trapped by the persona you’ve created? Is your business stifled by its brand? Are you copying yourself? What’s holding your self back? “Self”? Selves!
3. Picasso fertilized confusion and change. He not only ceaselessly changed his styles but also changed his mind. Watch “The Mystery of Picasso” – a gorgeous black-and-white film of just the artist and the canvas and the smoking French filmmaker – and you’ll see a metaphorical mind-in-motion. Erasures and overlaps and failures and spontaneous improvisations. Are you stymied by too much planning? Too many options? Act! Take brush in hand and become what you’re imagining. You’ll learn as you go.
4. Picasso kept his “connectivity capacity” active and tracked wonder his whole life. Your connectivity capacity is your mind’s ability to see similarities – metaphors, patterns, analogies – between and among disparate things. It’s a necessary habit of
mind that leads to innovative action. And look at that photo of him in the cafe with the loaves. Not just the loaves but the eyes and the lifted right eyebrow. The man tracks it.
5. Picasso was prolific. “Give me a museum, and I’ll fill it.” Maybe braggadocio, but true. Picasso’s some 50,000 artworks fill museums in Barcelona and Paris and more. He worked. And worked. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” What are you producing today? What are you making? One stroke at a time, that’s how meaningful art and business and life are crafted.
6. Picasso loved life. This, more than anything, I took away from those images – of him and of the ones he made. I started writing stories as a boy to live more intensely. To pay attention. To create rather than just be acted upon. Is the work you’re creating taking you more into the heart of what your life is about? Is your desire for sustainable, abundant income lined up with what matters most?