|Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, one of the twentieth century's|
greatest artistic rivalry.
And even while these two paintings, created only a year apart, signal two landmark works in the history of modern art, they also represent a contrast in approach, stakes, and sensibility in the engagement with modernism. One of my favourite discussions of this rivalry and its many points of contrast can be found in the archives of Slate.com in an article by Jacob Weisberg who breaks down the differences between Matisse and Picasso along the one philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche established in The Birth of Tragedy between Apollonian and Dionysian Art. As Weisberg argues,
“The Apollonian comes from the Greek god Apollo, the god of light, who was associated with rationality and its subspecialties law, medicine, and philosophy. The Dionysian comes from Dionysius, the god of wine and fertility, who was worshipped with drunken orgies in the woods at which nonparticipants were ripped to pieces. The Apollonian spirit is one of measure, reason, and control; the Dionysian is one of abandon, irrationality, and ecstatic release. The clash between the two principles was what produced Greek tragedy, according to Nietzsche. That Matisse is essentially an Apollonian artist and Picasso a Dionysian is evident even from the backhanded compliments they paid each other. Matisse called Picasso "capricious and unpredictable." Picasso described Matisse's paintings as "beautiful and elegant."Weisberg goes on to produce a tongue in cheek list that I have pasted below to affirm these differences as an essential competitive struggle still being waged in contemporary culture. Where do you fit into this rivalry? Are you more of a Matisse or a Picasso?
To further this conversation, I have selected two clips of Matisse and Picasso in action-- it is always great to look back to these archival films to see the two "heavies" of modern art in action.