Standout: Lessons from Les Demoiselles painting

the-girls-of-avignon-1907

In 1907, 112 years ago, in a small studio in Paris, a young painter named Pablo Picasso sets up his easel.

Usually penniless, he has taken advantage of a financial windfall to purchase a large canvas.

He starts working on a provocative project, a portrait of prostitutes in a brothel, an unvarnished look at sexual vice.

Picasso begins with charcoal sketches of heads, bodies, and fruit.

In his first versions, a sailor and male medical student are part of the scene. He decides to remove the men, settling on the five women as his subjects.

He tries out different poses and arrangements, crossing most of them out.

After hundreds of sketches, he sets to work on the full canvas.

At some point he invites his mistress and several friends to see the work in progress.

Their reaction so disappointed, that he stops and sets aside the painting.

But months later he goes back to the painting, and works on it in secret.

Picasso views the portrait of the prostitutes as an exorcism from his previous way of painting.

The more time he spends on it, the further he moves from his earlier work.

When he invites people back to see it again. Their reaction is even more hostile.

He offers to sell it to his most loyal patron, who laughs at the prospect.

His friends avoid him, fearing he has lost his mind. This painting was deemed immoral.

Dismayed, Picasso rolls up the canvas and puts it in his closet.

He waits nine years to show it in public.

In the midst of the first world war, the painting is finally exhibited.

The curator, worried about offending public taste, changed the title from  Le Bordel d’Avignon [The Brothel of Avignon] to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon [The Young Ladies of Avignon]

The painting has a mixed reception, over time, the painting’s influence grows.

A few decades later, when Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the New York Times critic writes:

“Few paintings have had the momentous impact of this composition of five distorted nude figures. With one stroke, it challenged the art of the past and inexorably changed the art of our times.”

The art historian John Richardson later writes that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was the most original painting in seven hundred years.

The results and successes of standing out are not instant, they take time.

On your way to standing out, you will have to withstand a lot of criticism, some of it genuine, some just fake.

Sometimes your standing out may be ahead of its time, and the audience is just not prepared.

Picasso took months to commit his ideas to canvas, and nearly a decade to show his art.

Make something for the long haul, because that’s how long it’s going to take, guys. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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