Throughout the early twentieth century, Cubism was the dominant force behind an entire artistic generation. The Cubist methods radically redefined the nature and scope of Western painting and introduced an entirely new way of representing reality. In many respects, Cubism marked the end of the Renaissance
-dominated era, and the beginning of modern art.
Cubism, in its first stages, was the creation of Pablo Picasso
and Georges Braque. After meeting in Paris in 1907, Picasso and Braque formed an artistic association that became the fountainhead of Cubism. They discovered new approaches to pictorial space and emotional expression, and sparked a new attitude toward the expressive potential of art. New supporters formed a distinct group, among them such painters as Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Henri Le Fauconnier, and André Lhote. Before long, so many artists had turned to Cubism that it temporarily became the universal language of avant-garde painting.
The Cubist painters broke away from two central characteristics of European painting: the classical style for the human figure, and the spatial illusionism of a single point perspective. They believed that such traditional means of expression were mired in symbolic, literary, and historical dimensions. Cubists believed art should be a highly structured aesthetic object, with an impersonal, objective flawlessness. By concentrating on what was strictly visible to the eye, art could reflect the complex psychological process of visual perception itself.
Cubists emphasized the process of construction, of using an analytical approach to the object, and converting the forms into essential geometric shapes: the cube, the sphere, the cylinder and the cone. The intersecting planes used in Cubism follow an artistic logic of their own, and contribute as much to the rhythmic structure of the painting as with the necessity of describing the subject. This technique allowed the artist to combine separate points of view into a single image.
Even though the rise of Cubism broke nearly five hundred years of tradition, it essentially revived and expanded that tradition by redefining its foundation. In the place of exhausted symbolism and illusionism, the Cubists united a new interpretation of reality with logical sensibility. In doing so, they founded a new tradition that still echoes throughout modern culture.