Genius: Picasso premieres Tuesday, April 24th at 9/8c on National Geographic.
On April 24, Antonio Banderas will strut his stuff as Pablo Picasso in the latest installment of the National Geographic Channel’s Genius series. As an appetizer, this week’s Book Talk features a new book, Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World, which tells the story of how an impoverished Spanish painter from Barcelona exploded onto the Parisian cultural scene and changed the course of modern art with a single painting.
When National Geographic caught up with the author, Miles Unger, at his home near Boston, he explained Picasso’s complicated relationship to money and fame; why his treatment of women was so awful; and how his masterpiece “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” took art in a revolutionary new direction and would become the cornerstone of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The term genius has become debased through overuse today. But Picasso seems to genuinely merit it. What’s your view?
I’m a little uncomfortable about the term genius because it does seem to be denuded of content. He was incredibly innovative and had enormous artistic courage. That’s one of his qualities. Fewer famous people have painted as many horrible paintings as Picasso. That was intentional. He was not afraid of ugliness; in fact he was much more afraid of prettiness. He feared most of all to adhere to formula, to do something safe. He said that art had to be dangerous, to be offensive, to push boundaries, and he had an enormous drive to do that. If you can call him a genius—and he certainly transformed the course of art, so in that sense it’s valid—what it consists of is his enormous courage and defiance of rules.
One of the keys to his particular form of genius was that he knew the weaknesses of the “enemy” because he had been one of them. He’d been brought up in a very academic tradition by his father and given a classical training, going through all the stages, from etching to classical sculptures. It’s not that he discarded these tools, but he used them for very different purposes. You see his gift for draftsmanship and knowledge of the tools of art, but he took them apart and put them together in unexpected combinations. What distinguishes him from other iconoclasts, though, was that he didn’t simply tear down; he tore down in order to build up again.
We have to address Picasso’s chauvinism, especially now, in the age of #MeToo. How should we view his attitudes and behavior toward women?
He came from a patriarchal family and part of the world in which women were expected to stay at home and take care of their husbands and children. Your social life revolved around men. Men were your intellectual and drinking companions. For sex, you went to the whorehouse, and occasionally came home to your wife. So, as a lover and husband, I think he was horrible. He bullied and domineered the women in his life. He famously said that women were either goddesses or doormats. Usually, they went from being goddesses to doormats.
Some people, when confronted with an artist like Picasso, say he was a great artist but a terrible human being, but that the two have nothing to do with each other. I think that’s a mistake, particularly in the case of Picasso, because his attitudes toward women were so much a part of his art. If you look at “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon,” the fury and conflicted feelings about women all come through. That doesn’t mean we should forgive his treatment of real women. But one should also recognize that art can often come from a very dark and furious place, just as Matisse’s art came from a joyful, sensual, much-less-conflicted place.
One of Picasso’s contemporaries, Andre Salmon, said “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon” was “The incandescent crater from which emerged the fire of present art.” Talk us through the creation of this iconic work.
In 1906, Matisse paints “Bonheur de Vivre,” or “Joy of Life,” which was a smash success and propelled Matisse to the forefront. So Picasso starts thinking of a masterpiece to rival Matisse’s great work, but in his own, unique style. In 1907, he begins to create this counter-masterpiece, based on the image of a whorehouse, which is larger than life and full of demonic figures. If Matisse’s painting was the “Joy of Life,” Picasso’s might be called “The Horror of Sex.”
He gets his patrons, the Steins, to buy him another studio in his apartment in the Bateau Lavoir and sets down to recreate art from the ground up. Picasso is famous for the rapidity with which he painted, but he labored over this work for months, filling notebook after notebook. He is trying to reinvent western pictorial modes, drawing on primitive sources like Iberian art, which he was very influenced by. Later, he visits the ethnographic museum in Paris, where he sees African and New Hebrides sculptures, and Native American works, and is blown away by this completely different approach to form, which is much more conceptual. It is not based on trying to recreate the world that we see, but a symbolic, almost shamanistic approach to the human form.
What he creates after eight agonizing months of struggle is a completely new pictorial form. If you stand in front of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” the impact is incredible; it’s enormously in your face. He pressed everything up to the front of the canvas. There is no empty space, just jagged forms, these horrifying creatures who stare right back at you, the viewer. It creates a completely different way of relating to a painting than the traditional notion of a painting as a window on the world. It’s as if the window had been turned inside out, pressing outward into outer space.
Picasso eventually became fabulously wealthy. But the Bateau Lavoir, or Laundry Barge, the building where he painted his masterpiece, sounds more like a stage set for Les Miserables. Put us inside this world of art, STDs, and squalor.
The Bateau Lavoir was a former piano factory on the top of the hill in Montmartre that was converted into artist studios. There were a bunch of cramped little rooms with flimsy walls and dirt all over the place. There was one toilet at the bottom. It was so hot in the summer you couldn’t wear clothes, but in the winter the tea froze in the cups.
It was mostly artists and their various mistresses and hangers-on. Many were opium smokers. One German artist Picasso invited to be his neighbor in the Bateau Lavoir ended up hanging himself in an opium-induced binge. Picasso lived with a menagerie of cats and dogs, and even had a pet mouse. He claimed he slept with almost every one of his models. His first serious mistress, Fernande Olivier, was originally the mistress of a sculptor who also lived in the Bateau Lavior. It all became very complicated, with bitter arguments, jealousies, and rages, partly fuelled by alcohol and drugs.
Picasso described it later as the happiest time of his life, even though he often didn’t know where his next meal was coming from. He told the story of trekking across Paris in the snow with a painting that he made specifically because he thought it would sell; it was more cheerful than the other stuff he was doing. But he couldn’t even get a sale from his dealer, Berthe Weill, and had to trek back hours through the snow in boots with holes in them. Whenever he did make a sale, he immediately spent his money going into the Lapin Agile, a cabaret in Montmartre, so by the next morning he had no money again. He often resorted to stealing from friends. He once snuck into another artist’s studio and took some money and food off the table. He and his friends cheated the local baker. They’d order from him, then pretend not to be home when the order arrived, so they would not have to pay. They hid from creditors. It was a very difficult life but, in many ways, a very romantic one.
Today, perfumes, pens, and cars are marketed under the Picasso name. The painter would have been appalled, wouldn’t he?
I’m sure he would have been totally disgusted by it. He felt art came from a very dark place, and didn’t like to be branded. He fought for fame all his life and when he finally got it, he treated it with contempt. He hated the phonies who came up and kissed the ring of the great man. Anybody who called him a master would be shouted out of the room. One time, he got so fed up he took out the revolver he’d inherited from Alfred Jarry and began shooting it in the air. He was a belligerent and feisty guy [laughs] who didn’t put up with nonsense. He craved adulation, but he loathed sycophants.
He once said you have to be rich to live like you aren’t interested in money. He had a complicated relationship with his own fame and success. For a while after he married the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, she tried to make him into a proper gentleman, but he soon got totally disgusted with her and with it, and returned to his Bohemian friends. He was also an incredible miser and paranoid about money. He kept all his money safety-pinned in a little pocket inside his jacket and was constantly accusing people of having opened it up and stealing his money.
“Les Demoiselles D’Avignon” now hangs in MOMA in New York. Tell us the story of its journey across the Atlantic and what its legacy is today.
The strange thing about “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon,” which is usually regarded as the key work in the modern era, is that it was almost invisible for many decades. After Picasso painted it in 1907 it was shown a few times to his friends, but the reception was so terrible and people were so shocked and appalled by it that he rolled it up and put it away and it was not seen for many years.
It had already launched a revolution, though. People like Georges Braque and André Derain were blown away and began to paint in that style. Eventually, in a year or two, we have the full-blown movement known as Cubism. Though the painting is buried away, it has an almost cult status but nobody ever sees it until 1916 when André Salmon has a show and it finally gets its name. Then, in the 1920s, André Breton, the inventor of surrealism, rediscovers it and calls it the key work in the history of the modern movement. It spoke to him with its surrealist interest in sex and violence.
Eventually it travels across the Atlantic and Alfred Barr, who is founding the Museum of Modern Art, realizes this is going to be the key work around which he will build the museum. But its meaning has shifted drastically over the years. First, it was seen as the founding work of Cubism. In the 1970s, people began to see what was there all the time, which is a savage, violent sexuality. Today, after more than a hundred years, it’s hard to put oneself back in time and feel the sense of shock that people originally had. But I still think it’s a pretty tough, aggressive painting. It radiates a savage power even to this day.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
The psychology behind Cambridge Analytica
Cambridge Analytica talks a big talk. “We can use ‘big data’ to understand exactly what messages each specific group within a target audience need to hear,” Alexander Nix, the organization’s chief executive, said at a marketing conference last year, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Documents circulated by SCL Elections, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, claimed to be “experts in measurable behavioral change.” The firm claimed its own methodology, “enables us to understand how people think and identify what it would take to change their mindsets and associated voting patterns.”
Online behaviour is indicative of a massive amount of information and it is perfectly possible to analyze Facebook activity to determine everything from health and character type, to political leanings and openness to vote. If the firm did obtain a thorough set of consumer information from Facebook, as has been reported, then it might have gotten exceptional insight to what makes people vote and how. “Facebook allowed them to combine different data sources in a way that allowed them to understand voters maybe better than voters themselves did,” states Dietram Scheufele, science communication scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Such understanding would allow for exact, targeted advertisements, which, of course, is precisely what Facebook sells its advertisers, such as Procter & Gamble. “Using Facebook words and likes, I can tell a lot about your political orientation, and hence show you an ad you’re likely to respond to (what’s your biggest concern: guns, gays, greens),” Lyle Ungar, a University of Pennsylvania professor who researches the psychology of social media use, writes in an email.
But following understanding the nuances of people and paying for exactly targeted advertising, do these ads change minds? It’s improbable. We’re not as manipulatable as Cambridge Analytica might love to think. “They showed in the 1940s that most campaign effects are really reinforcement effects,” he describes. Once somebody holds an opinion, they will buy into messages which encourage their preexisting perspective. But advertisements do not actually make us start thinking otherwise. After all, the early primaries could be determined by a relatively small number of voters, and mobilizing certain groups may have a critical effect. But, contrary to what Cambridge Analytica could imply, there is no exact and thorough science which indicates that in the event that you show specific adverts to specific character types at a particular period, then it will definitely have a potent impact. After all, Cambridge Analytica, hired by the Ted Cruz campaign, failed to make him president.
The research conducted by Cambridge Analytica can’t be replicated at a scientifically good fashion, states Scheufele, not least because both the information and calculations that it used are continuously changing. Facebook changes its algorithm consistently, and users leave and join all the time. “There’s little scientific research. There cannot be. If I wanted to replicate the kind of work that Cambridge Analytica claims to have, I wouldn’t be able to. The algorithms that led to their conclusions no longer exist. The data has changed, the population has changed and so on.”
No commendable academic paper would offer the basis for Cambridge Analytica’s hints that it relies on psychological techniques to convince people to vote for a specific candidate. Psychologists from the area have well-educated guesses concerning the particular papers the Cambridge Analytica scientists depended upon–and not one of them suggest that the amount of manipulation the data firm promised is possible.
Much of Cambridge Analytica’s work was tried by other political groups, notes Scheufele–such as Barack Obama. His 2012 campaign hired “predictive modeling and data mining scientists,” according to job advertisements, which read: “Modeling analysts are charged with predicting the behavior of the American electorate. These models will be instrumental in helping the campaign determine which voters to target for turnout and persuasion efforts, where to buy advertising and how to best approach digital media.” Obama’s team put advertisements inside video games during the 2008 election.
The fundamental idea behind targeting particular groups is very old: Proctor and Gamble sponsored the production of “soap operas,” states Scheufele, since the provider quite literally wanted to sell soap to some certain audiences–girls doing housework at home– and so created the shows to attract a particular demographic.
Cambridge Analytica—also Facebook itself—only takes this to another level. It knows about our social groups–that is critical, as social contagion has a huge influence on behaviour. “That’s why Google has forever tried to buy some social network that was actually successful,” states Scheufele. “They tried Orkut, they tried Google Plus, they bought Waze for a billion dollars even though they already had Google Maps. Why? Because they want not just data on me but on all the friends surrounding me because that allows me to target much more precisely my potential vulnerabilities.”
Social media has enabled advertisers to target people and learn more about people than ever before. “It’s the sociology and the psychology together,” states Scheufele. “We’re no longer targeting segments, we’re targeting individuals.” But the psychological techniques used to affect us are neither as precise nor as strong as Cambridge Analytica supervisors have promised.
New Study Confirms Early TV Exposure is the Gateway to Obesity and Unhealthy Habits
We’ve known for a very long time that watching television has a profound effect on brainwaves and states of consciousness, and that the more television people watch, the more likely they are to be obese, unhealthy and dumbed down. This is how TV works.
Television is part of daily life for so many people, and parents and child caregivers are often quick to use the TV as an activity for toddlers and even babies, at a time when their young brains are developing at a rapid rate. It’s one thing for adults to choose to destroy themselves with television, but kids don’t really choose, the television is so seductive that once it is on, young children cannot manage to ignore it.
Television is a drug for children, automatically gripping their minds and holding their consciousness captive.
But what is it really doing? A recent research study into the effects of TV on toddlers found out some startling things about how spending too much time in front of TV affects a child’s decision-making processes as they grow up.
The study actually isolated the television watchers from those who use smartphones, ipads and handheld dqevices, by looking at people born before this boom in technology.
Toddler TV time was found to morph into undesirable adolescent habits, such as consuming unhealthy food (fast food, prepared food, sports drinks, and sweet or salty snacks, to name a few) and being less likely to eat breakfast on weekdays. Every 1-hour-13-minute increase in daily television watching as toddlers linked to “a 8.2 percent increased risk of unhealthy eating habits…a 13.3 percent increase in BMI.” The results also indicated a risk of less engagement in school.
“Lifestyle habits not only affect metabolic risk but may also influence personal success outcomes,” the researchers concluded. “These independent relationships, observed more than a decade later, suggest a need for better parental awareness of the way children invest their limited waking hours could affect their long-term life course trajectories.” [Source]
The study, entitled, Prospective associations between toddler televiewing and subsequent lifestyle habits in adolescence, notes the following highlights:
- Excessive early televiewing was associated with subsequent risks in adolescence.
- Excessive early televiewing was associated with later risk of being overweight.
- Excessive early televiewing was associated with later risk of poor eating habits.
- Excessive early televiewing was associated with later risk of skipping breakfast.
- Excessive early televiewing predicted a later risk of being less engaged at school.
The conclusions are straightforward, and should serve as a compliment with what we today know about the dangers of obesity and it’s link to major diseases like cancer. A child that begins life developing the habit of regularly over-watching television is being put on a trajectory of poor health, deadly disease, and being less engaged mentally in their world.
About the Author
Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com. Alex is an avid student of Yoga and life.
This article (New Study Confirms Early TV Exposure is the Gateway to Obesity and Unhealthy Habits) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Alex Pietrowski and WakingTimes.com.
A Therapist Explains What Happens When People Try to Quit Psychiatric Meds
Trying to kick psychiatric medications is one of those rarely discussed problems with the modern psychiatric business. For all the informative and sleek television commercials and all the simplified explanations by doctors, when someone decides to get off these meds, the experience can be an utter nightmare.
Writing for The New York Times in 2015, Diana Spechler spelled out her hellish process in an article entitled, 10 Things I’d Tell My Former (Medicated) Self. As she describes, there is very little support for people who wish to quit the meds and return to feeling like themselves again. One of her comments gets at the complexity and craziness of trying to quit.
“You might need to taper more gradually than your doctor thinks. Reduce one medication at a time, just a sliver, every couple of weeks at the most. Be gentle. For example, if you’re planning to cut your benzo on a Friday night, but you’re still having withdrawal symptoms from your last cut, or you see the aftermath of yet another shooting on the news, take your usual dose. You can always cut on Monday. Or next Monday. Or the next. It will take you seven months to get off of three drugs. That’s fine. That’s good. You got this. Mid-taper, you can always go back to your previous dose. Medicate if that’s what helps you make it through a day without hiding in the bathroom. The goal is to feel O.K., not to prove that you are O.K. without meds.” [Source]
This is the truth for most people. They simply have to find some inner strength and work out some plan for themselves and do the best they can.
Consultant Chaya Grossberg has been offering non-medical consultations on to people in the process of coming off of psychiatric drugs. In a recent piece for Mad in America, she notes 10 things she commonly sees in her clients.
Of particular note is her opinion that the pharmacaeutical industry should be held accountable for the financial and personal consequences of getting people hooked on psych meds. She considers it an issue of informed consent.
“No one gets on psychiatric drugs with informed consent. No one is given lots of accessible, safe options and honesty about where their diagnosis came from and how arbitrary it is, with a good serving of social criticism mixed in, and still chooses to take psychiatric drugs. People take them out of desperation. It’s an inherently manipulative process that doesn’t offer alternatives that are accessible and socially acceptable.” [Source]
In short, she describes a typically long and arduous process, where forces outside of one’s control often take over. In this, she notes that psychiatric medications have a tendency to dampen or obstruct will power, making it ever more difficult to quit.
It’s still possible for those with the decks seemingly stacked against them, and having a strong conviction can make the difference. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” This does not mean that if someone is struggling it is their fault or due to a lack of will. Unfortunately psychiatric drugs have a way of dampening the will. The will for some has to come from something beyond themselves, like a higher calling. Sometimes things like destiny and mystery are at play and we can’t claim to always understand or scientifically evaluate why one person can get off and another can’t. We all have different life paths and to deny the mystery in that or try to define everything in linear cause and effect terms is a modern day control mechanism similar to psychiatry itself. Like life itself, there are disparities and unfair things we can’t always explain.
What she is describing is a process pretty much exactly like that of trying to quit any hardcore street drug like cocaine or even heroin. Some people simply cannot do it on their own, while others are fortunate to experience some kind of divine intervention on their behalf.
“For those who come through to the other side, there can be a sense of death and rebirth of a whole new self.” ~Chaya Grossberg
About the Author
Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com. Alex is an avid student of Yoga and life.
This article (Therapist Explains What Happens When People Try to Quit Psychiatric Meds) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Alex Pietrowski and WakingTimes.com.
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