Rich and Rewarding Insights Directly from the Mouth of Picasso

“When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

This isn’t the first time I have been to Wiki Quotes, but it is the first time I’ve explored it. For years, whenever I looked for a Picasso quote I would find the same few, like how it takes a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child again, or this one from Life Magazine in 1964: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

At Wiki Quotes I found a gold mine of Picasso quotes, and furthermore, they reveal deeper layers of this man who by virtue of his fame became a caricature of himself. Here is a great insight from that page as regards understanding Cubism, or any other contemporary art movement.

Pablo Picasso. Public domain.

Cubism is no different from any other school of painting. The same principles and the same elements are common to all. The fact that for a long time cubism has not been understood and that even today there are people who cannot see anything in it, means nothing. I do not read English, and an English book is a blank to me. This does not mean that the English language does not exist, and why should I blame anyone but myself if I cannot understand what I know nothing about?

The highlighted part is rich. A lot of people don’t “get” modern art or abstract art. As Picasso points out, there is a language to some kinds of art, and if you are not well-versed in the language, it may not speak to you. Here is another insight.

Young Picasso in front of L’Aficianado

I also often hear the word ‘evolution’. Repeatedly I am asked to explain how my painting evolved. To me there is no past or future in my art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was. Art does not evolve by itself, the ideas of people change and with them their mode of expression. (Paris 1923)

When I read this next quote I thought immediately of Dylan, whose lyrics at times have been often considered obscure and not easily understood. As many Dylan fans and scholars have repeated over the years, Dylan doesn’t like to or feel it necessary to explain his songs.

It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.

Here’s Picasso’s response when asked to explain the symbolism in Guernica.

…this bull is a bull and this horse is a horse… If you give a meaning to certain things in my paintings it may be very true, but it is not my idea to give this meaning. What ideas and conclusions you have got I obtained too, but instinctively, unconsciously. I make the painting for the painting. I paint the objects for what they are.

Here’s another interesting observation about understanding a painting.

Everyone wants to understand painting. Why don’t they try to understand the song of the birds? Why do they love a night, a flower, everything which surrounds man, without attempting to understand them? Whereas where painting is concerned, they want to understand. Let them understand above all that the artist works from necessity; that he, too, is a minute element of the world to whom one should ascribe no more importance than so many things in nature which charm us but which we do not explain to ourselves. Those who attempt to explain a picture are on the wrong track most of the time. Gertrude Stein, overjoyed, told me some time ago that she had finally understood what my picture represented: three musicians. It was a still life!! [Boisgeloup, winter 1934].

(1) As quoted in Life with Picasso, by François Gilot, 1964, p. 60

For more details on the quotes cited above, visit Wikiquote Picasso.

Originally published at on April 13, 2019.
Photos on this page Public Domain

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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