Picasso and Philosophy


At some point, March 14, 1932, Pablo Picasso was retreating from his easel. He has stopped work on the painting and called this work Girl before a mirror, thinking that there is nothing to add or change in it. The creative process of this painting was stopped. The painting was painted near Paris and depicted the artist's young mistress Marie-Therese Walter, with whom they met in 1927. Although during this period Picasso was married to a jealous Russian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova, a young blonde Frenchwoman became his muse and love. From all the women who were painted by the artist, the representation of Walter is considered to be the most extraordinary (Umland 2).

This work represents a young woman who sees herself in a big oval mirror. From an artistic point of view, the work is a vivid example of a period of surrealism. Courageous colorful patterns on the background are competing with the central character of the girl and her mirror image. Rounded arcs, which are repeated throughout the work, balance with the broken diagonal lines in the background. The face of the girl is composed of two contrasting halves: one side is sad and concentrated while the other is like a mask, which produces a storm of emotions by different colors. In the mirror, she sees herself as not the same as she actually is. This is the main point of the painting. Her simplicity and innocence are disappearing in the mirror.

Certainly, while looking at this picture a person can interpret it differently, but the meaning remains the same. On the one hand, the young girl can see herself in the mirror differently because she loves herself too much. The contact with elongated hands and image in the mirror represents vanity as this looks like a gesture of embrace. The girl stares at her reflection without understanding what is happening inside her. Mirror, in turn, shows her dark side. This is reminiscent of the story of an ancient Roman poet Ovid and his main character Narcissus from the "Metamorphoses".

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Marie-Therese Walter

On the other hand, the painting represents a few more interesting details. It is possible that Marie-Therese was painted when being pregnant. Hands of Marie-Therese Walter are directed to the mirror. With a burning interest, a girl wants to touch her reflection, which simultaneously entails and frightens her. We see how the mirror changes her appearance and reveals inaccessible to the ordinary vision of the inner self. In the mirror, there is a particular image. The figure seems sad; while, on the other side, she is full of life.

Turning to the philosophy of Socrates, we can explore an interesting fact of similarity between art and philosophical thinking. In some cases, these two approaches are very different. First of all, art is a visual way of connecting with people while philosophy is a method of humans’ connecting between themselves. However, let us return to Socrates. The doctrine that can be applied to Girl before a mirror is named "maieutics". Maieutic became very popular among people who wanted to know about themselves and their surroundings. In another way, the method of psychological analysis by Socrates can be determined as the "subjectively dialectic method," which is clearly manifested in the interviews and dialogues (Nun 143). With the help of irony, Socrates was trying to destroy the confidence of his interlocutor, clearing the ground on which grain of truth will grow. Comparing this doctrine to the picture by Pablo Picasso, we can find a common ground. A young girl is looking at herself in the mirror and sees an ugly picture. She really does not like what she sees. In this case, she is trying to open something that is inside. Picasso is using the method of maieutics to her in his special artistic way. He asks Marie about her inside a world without words. However, in the role of a mediator, who helps her to learn herself, is an inanimate object. In a free unconstrained environment, she sees what she really is. The role of the mirror and bright colors carries the same ironic Socratic approach. This is the irony of fate over herself. Her soul is dark while vivid colors are laughing.

The figure of a girl leaning upon the mirror is also a representation of the time flow. According to Socrates' doctrine, it could be seen that he was exactly right when he said that humans will understand he is inside the world with time. A person who wants to see his/her reflection makes it instantly. Marie reveals that she stayed at the display for a while. At that moment, she understands some events that occurred in her life. She was only seventeen when the artist started a love story with her. Most likely, she was not prepared for the fact that because her artist would divorce his wife, and she would bear him a child. She did not realize what she has received in life. No wonder, why such a young girl is looking at herself in horror.

Thus, during the process of comparing Picasso’s painting and Socrates's theory about the inside and inner world, we can see that they have a lot in common. Talented philosopher Socrates in his teaching tells us how to know a person from the inside. Meanwhile, Picasso shows the same theory, not in the oral mode, but his picture. The difference between the philosophical teaching and the painting is only in the method of presentation. A person can learn not only his/her surroundings and their intentions, but him/her soul individually. Everything that person needs is just one look into the mirror. So, research has shown that philosophical knowledge’s about the inner world cognition provides an opportunity to expand the knowledge and analyze not only life situations but also paintings.

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