Picasso’s An Artist (1968)
Michael Fried in his recent book on Caravaggio had an important insight that we have discussed before in “Over-the-Shoulder Poses.” It may be worth reading that entry first. He argues that Renaissance and Baroque paintings with a single half-length figure reaching towards the edge of the image, as Picasso's artist does below, are often substitutes for the artist even though in Fried's examples they do not appear to be painters. He claims the actual artist is looking in a mirror set up at a right-angle to the easel. They then turn their head to look in the mirror (that is, out at us in the painting) to paint their portrait. What we then see in the painting is what the artist saw in the mirror.
Fried's insight is totally convincing but he failed to see meaning in the form. In painting what they see in the mirror, the entire surface of the painting becomes a mirror which is an age-old metaphor for the mind. From St. Augustine onwards the creation of man in the image of God meant that the human mind was a vestige of the Trinity and that to see the image of God, the original imago Dei, human beings had to turn inwards to their own mind rather than out to the "real" world. In the Middle Ages man's mind was a mirror reflecting God. This meant, of course, that the mirror had to be positioned correctly, kept clean and pure, in order to see God clearly.1
Picasso knew much of this from art alone and demonstrated it in image after image. Here is a late portrait of an artist facing his easel yet instead of turning his head to look in the mirror (and out at us), only his eye does so even though the eyelashes face left. The lower eye is real; the other his mind's eye, further evidence that we are looking in a mirror.
See conclusion below
More Works by Picasso
Ignore the title of a painting; they can lead you far astray
Just like Michelangelo's, Picasso's women are masculine too....here's how and why.
What looks like nonsense from Picasso - pregnant men with breasts - make sense if you see it the way Picasso did.
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