The tragedy of war seen through the eyes “of a child”
If only we could see reality through the eyes of a child, as if it were the first time! Some artists did it. And if we learned from them, the world would open up before us like the first day of Creation.
At the beginning of the 1900s, the revolutions taking place in the artistic field had often been accompanied by the refusal of the western tradition and all its artifices. At the same time, we looked at the art of primitive peoples, devoid of intellectualism. Along these lines, some artists grew interested in children’s art, finding a spontaneous and authentic way of representing reality, without sophistication.
“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up“, Picasso once said. And this should be the key to reading many of his works.
Need an example? The famous “Guernica” (1937) offers political, symbolic readings, as well as refined aesthetic analyzes. These are all legitimate evaluations. However, as we go deeper, we can see that the painting was created with expressive simplicity, almost a sort of candor.
The barbarism of the bombing has been transposed into an elementary design of great communicative strength, due to the fact that it lacks sophisticated artistic practices that would prevent the viewer from concentrating on the message.
Just look at the electric bulb with sharp divergent points, conjuring up the explosion of the bombs with extraordinary visual immediacy.
Or the woman who is running away, her body is unnaturally stretched to the right, a perfectly credible image in a childish universe, much like the figures that stretch out in cartoons.
This stretching exacerbates her escape from the house that is burning above her, to her back, and because there is no doubt about the fire. Just behind, a figure raises her arms to the sky while flames, drawn with elementary lines, flicker sideways and above.
Roland Penrose, in his biography on Picasso, recalls that on the occasion of an exhibition of children’s drawings, the artist commented: “When I was their age I knew how to draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn how to draw like a child.”
In fact, Picasso always tried to go to the essence of form, digging within himself to find, in addition to any artifice, an elementary image in his inner-child’s mind.
He also understood the communicative power of simplicity.
The story of the “Dove of Peace” is emblematic in this sense.
In 1949 Picasso was commissioned by the French Communist Party, of which he was a member, to create the manifesto of the World Congress of Partisans of Peace. The artist did not create complex images. He simply drew a dove, represented with extreme realism.
The surprise choice was a religious symbol, and as a consequence it was considered inappropriate. Many leaders would have preferred an image linked to the party. Picasso, on the other hand, overcame these limitations and, by stripping the dove of sacred references, went beyond specific ideologies in order to draw on universal themes.
Subsequently he returned to this image of the dove by synthesizing it with a silhouette drawn by a single line – a show of skill that Picasso often used and even boasted about.
This led him to create a series of iconic images with an elementary trait, sometimes accompanied by a woman’s face, which became the emblem of peace in a cold war and which also appeared in other posters, including the congress held in Moscow in 1962.
Once the naturalism of 1949 disappeared, Picasso reduced the animal to essential lines. The dove became a pure form, as a child would draw it, and for this reason it has left a lasting impression on our collective memory.
When Picasso chose the dove, perhaps he remembered his apprenticeship with his father, a mediocre artist, who often painted animals.
Gombrich, the art critic, quotes Sabartès’ memory of how Picasso had told him that as a child, when his father left him alone at school, drew to exorcise fear and that his favorite subject was a stuffed pigeon that his father used as a template. Apparently, he was so obsessed with pigeons that he had searched for them through an advertisement in a newspaper. Those drawings have been lost, however in 1901 he painted a rather tender piece of a girl holding a dove.
Knowledge creates categories and prejudices that a child does not have.
Remember the alien from the movie E.T.? Adults didn’t like it, but kids loved him.
If only we could turn back into children, seeing the world with the “pure” eyes of innocence and childhood, rediscovering that feeling of amazement we once had!
Anna Maria Calabretta