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The Moment of Cubism

“The moment at which a piece of music begins provides a clue to the nature of all art.  The incongruity of that moment, compared to the uncounted, unperceived silence which preceded it, is the secret of art.  What is the meaning of that incongruity and the shock which accompanies it? It is to be found in the distinction between the actual and the desirable.  All art is an attempt to define and make unnatural this distinction.

For a long time it was thought that art was the imitation and celebration of nature.  The confusion arose because the concept of nature itself was a projection of the desired.  Now that we have cleansed our view of nature, we see that art is an expression of our sense of the inadequacy of the given—which we are not obliged to accept with gratitude.  Art mediates between our good fortune and our disappointment.  Sometimes it mounts to a pitch of horror.  Sometimes it gives permanent value and meaning to the ephemeral.  Sometimes it describes the desired.

Thus art, however free or anarchic its mode of expression, is always a plea for greater control and an example, within the artificial limits of a “medium”, of the advantages of such control.  Theories about the artist’s inspiration are all projections back on to the artist of the effect which his work has upon us.

The only inspiration which exists is the intimation of our own potential.  Inspiration is the mirror image of history:  by means of it we can see our past, while turning our back upon it.  And it is precisely this which happens at the instant when a piece of music begins.  We suddenly become aware of the previous silence at the same moment as our attention is concentrated upon following sequences and resolutions which will contain the desired.

The Cubist moment was such a beginning, defining desires which are still unmet.”

–John Berger quoted from his essay “The Moment of Cubism,” 1969.

Georges Braques. “Le Sacré-Coeur,” Paris, winter 1909-10

Pablo Picasso. “Woman with a Mandolin,”  Cadaqués, summer 1910

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