From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Cubism was a 20th century art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music and literature. It developed as a short but highly significant art movement between about 1907 and 1914 in France. In cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form — instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles presenting no coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the ambiguous shallow space characteristic of cubism.
It is clear that the roots of cubism are to be found in the two distinct tendencies of Paul Cézanne's later work: firstly to break the painted surface into small multifaceted areas of paint, thereby emphasising the plural viewpoint given by binocular vision, and secondly his interest in simplification of natural forms into Platonic cylinders, spheres, pyramids and cubes.
The cubists went further than Cézanne; they represented all the surfaces of depicted objects in a single picture plane as if the objects had had all their faces visible at the same time, in the same plane. This new kind of depiction revolutionised the way in which objects could be visualised in painting and art and opened the possibility of a new way of looking at reality.
The most notable of cubism's small group of active participants were the Spaniards Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso, accompanied by French artist Georges Braque, then residents of Montmartre, Paris. These artists were the movement's main innovators. After meeting in 1907 Braque and Picasso in particular began working on the development of Cubism in 1908 and worked closely together until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
French art critic Louis Vauxcelles first used the term "cubism", or "bizarre cubiques", in 1908 after seeing a picture by Braque. He described it as 'full of little cubes', after which the term quickly gained wide use although the two creators did not initially adopt it.
Cubism was taken up by many artists in Montparnasse and promoted by art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, becoming popular so quickly that by 1911 critics were referring to a "cubist school" of artists. However, many of the artists who thought of themselves as cubists went in directions quite different from Braque and Picasso. The Puteaux Group was a significant offshoot of the Cubist movement, and included artists like Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, his brother Jacques Villon, and Fernand Léger.
In 1913 the United States was exposed to cubism and modern European art when Jacques Villon exhibited seven important and large drypoints at the famous Armory Show in New York City. Braque and Picasso themselves went through several distinct phases before 1920, and some of these works had been seen in New York prior to the Armory Show, at Alfred Stieglitz's "291" gallery.
Czech artists who realized the epochal significance of cubism of Picasso and Braque attempted to extract its components for their own work in all branches of artistic creativity - especially painting and architecture. This developed into so-called Czech Cubism which was an avant-garde art movement of Czech proponents of cubism active mostly in Prague from 1910 to 1914.
Cubism and its ideologies
Paris before World War I was a ferment of politics. New anarcho-syndicalist trade unions and women's rights movements were especially new and vigorous. There were strong movements around patriotic nationalism. Cubism was a particularly varied art movement in its political affiliations, with some sections being broadly anarchist or leftist, while others were strongly aligned with nationalist sentiment.
Types of Cubism
There are two main types of cubism, analytical cubism and synthetic cubism. Analytic cubism was mainly practiced by Braque, and is very simple, with dark, almost monochromatic colours. Synthetic cubism was much more energetic, and often made use of collage including the use of several two-dimensional materials. This type of cubism was developed by Picasso. During the two artists' time of collaboration from 1907 and ending with the First World War, their styles intermingled and they painted the same subjects, making their works at times closely resemble each other.
Cubism in Other Fields
The poets associated with Cubism are Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, André Salmon and Pierre Reverdy. As American poet Kenneth Rexroth explains, Cubism in poetry "is the conscious, deliberate dissociation and recombination of elements into a new artistic entity made self-sufficient by its rigorous architecture. This is quite different from the free association of the Surrealists and the combination of unconscious utterance and political nihilism of Dada." Nonetheless, the Cubist poets' influence on both Cubism and the later movements of Dada and Surrealism was profound; Louis Aragon, founding member of Surrealism, said that for Breton, Soupault, Éluard and himself, Reverdy was "our immediate elder, the exemplary poet." Though not as well remembered as the Cubist painters, these poets continue to influence and inspire; American poets John Ashbery and Ron Padgett have recently produced new translations of Reverdy's work.
Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" is also said to demonstrate how cubism's multiple perspectives can be translated into poetry.
In architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright gained widespread notoriety for his three-dimensional cubist building designs with highly fractured floor plans.