When you look at this painting, what do you see?
The first thing I see is two faces, one light, like daylight, and one dark, like midnight. Or they are two sides of the same face, perhaps. The daylight face seems calm and at peace, perhaps meditating. The dark face has more tension, possibly in anguish or in sorrow.
And then I see hands, two hands that seem to be clasping one another. There are fingers, or suggestions of fingers, wrapped into what might be hands holding each other. Faces and hands, light and dark, the anguished face on the right side of the painting with one ear, listening, the calm face on the left side, thinking. Sorrow and enlightenment interfolded with each other.
For some reason, when I look at this painting I feel as though I’m seeing myself. One side of me, the calm person of repose, another side of me, the passionate, anguished, and indignant person. And within myself, two clasped hands striving to bring together both sides of myself into some kind of harmony. It feels as though I am looking into some strange mirror, whose image shows me more than my external self. That sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?
This image was a framed print on the wall of our hotel room in Oregon. I had no idea it was a print of a Picasso painting, but it caught my attention and drew me in. Looking closer, I could see a signature at the top of the print, and the signature appeared to be “Picasso,” but it was hard to tell. After I wrote the short reflection above, I did a quick Google search to see if the painting was identifiable. Can you believe that searching using “Picasso two faces with hands” turned up the painting? It is called,“Tete d’une Femme Lisant” (“Head of a Woman Reading”).
A woman reading. – Presumably, that is what Picasso intended, a painting of a woman reading.
And what did I see? Two faces, anguish in one face, calm in the other, clasping hands with one another.
Was I wrong?
To me, this is the very best thing about art. If you like a painting, or a sculpture, or a piece of music, you often see or hear in it something that reminds you of a part of your own life, of a memory, of an aspiration or idea. (And sometimes this even happens with a work of art that you don’t like.) At its best, art can inspire to think about life a little differently.
I remember seeing an art exhibition in New York with my oldest son, who had a degree in fine art, and who had studied modern art for his thesis. During our trip he told me something very useful about modern art: when it comes to modern art, he told me, the key is the interaction between artist and viewer. What the artist renders evokes a response in the viewer, and that interaction is the important part of the art, not just what the artist intended to represent in their work. . . . Because modern art can be confusing at times, I try to keep this idea in mind when it comes to modern art.
What do you see in this picture? If you have art training or art knowledge, what thoughts do you have on how to interpret this work? Do you ever feel divided in the way that I’ve described above?
Have a lovely week!