Synthesis Through Destruction
The Cubist art movement of the first part of the twentieth century created a wave in the art realm much in the way that the Beat literary movement spurred a social revolution in the 1940s and 50s. The works of such artists as Pablo Picasso and writers as William S. Burroughs were scrutinized and questioned for obscenity and morality in their works and after years of study have come to be understood as cannon in their respective fields.
My interest in these movements was born out of an admiration for the Beat writers and their notion to question the society around them. In addition, learning the effect that the Cubist artists had on the art world which acted as a catalyst for the opening and acceptance of new art in the past one hundred years spurred me to know more. I began drawing my own connections between these movements and as I looked into academic research, I found that there was a serious lack of literature that associates the Beats and Cubists. I want to fill the gap in this research and attempt to understand how the Cubist and Beat movements relate as anarchist and revolutionary causes.
In trying to draw more physical connections, I found that both movements created a bulk of their works while living in and traveling around Paris. In fact, Burroughs’ famous cut-ups were created in Paris and significantly relate to Cubism and collage arts, also significantly spawned in Paris. This motivation of “challenging unity and cohesion” was evident as well in the avant-garde Europe, of which Cubism was also a part (Mackay). Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is seen as an “act of destruction” of the artistic norms prior to and of 1907, when it was created, “but also [an act] of creation” much in the same way of Burroughs’ cut-ups were not simply a destruction of his own work, but creating work anew (Chave).
Both the Cubist and Beat movements were birthed by and acted in response to the World Wars, and later for the Beats, the Cold War. There is an essay by Gertrude Stein specifically about Pablo Picasso, but I think her sentiment remains true for the Beats as well. She says that although humans do not simply change from one generation to the next, “it is the way of seeing and being seen that changes,” and that “changes in art thus reflect changes in the way that each generation is living, […] is being educated and the way they move about”(Carter). I believe that although these are two different art forms, they dealt with issues of their society and attempted to understand and respond to them creatively.