Ifind it hard to believe that the most extreme Cubist works were painted over 50 years ago. It is true that I would not expect them to have been painted today. They are both too optimistic and too revolutionary for that. Perhaps in a way I am surprised that they have been painted at all. It would seem more likely that they were yet to be painted. Do I make things unnecessarily complicated? Would it not be more helpful to say simply: the few great Cubist works were painted between 1907 and 1914? And perhaps to qualify this by adding that a few more, by Juan Gris, were painted a little later? And anyway is it not nonsense to think of Cubism having not yet taken place when we are surrounded in daily life by the apparent effects of Cubism? All modern design, architecture and town planning seems inconceivable without the initial example of Cubism.
Nevertheless I must insist on the sensation I have in front of the works themselves: the sensation that the works and I, as I look at them, are caught, pinned down, in an enclave of time, waiting to be released and to continue a journey that began in 1907.
The sensation could reflect a desire to escape. The intervening years were and are mostly ones of horror. Yet they exist. They cannot be treated like a cloud that passes across the moon. And for all their horror, they must be counted years of progress. To dismiss them would be to retrogress. We will never again find ourselves in a position that is comparable to 1907 or 1911. The photographs of the men of that time show us strangers. Through them we can imagine how we shall appear 50 years hence.
Then why play with conceits about time in this way? Because the sensation which I insist upon may be a key to understanding the significance of Cubism.
Cubism was a style of painting which evolved very quickly and whose various stages can be fairly specifically defined. Yet there were also Cubist poets, Cubist sculptors, and later so-called Cubist architects. Certain original stylistic features of Cubism can be found in the pioneer works of other movements: Suprematism, Constructivism, Futurism, Vorticism, and, later, the de Stijl movement and Dadaism.
The question thus arises: can Cubism be adequately defined as a style? It seems unlikely. Nor can it be defined as a policy. There was never any Cubist manifesto. The opinions and outlook of Picasso, Braque, Léger, or Juan Gris were clearly very different even during the few years when their paintings had many features in common. Is it not enough that the category of Cubism includes those works that are now generally agreed to be within it? This is enough for dealers, collectors and cataloguers who go by the name of art historians. But it is not, I believe, enough for you or me.
If the word revolution is used seriously and not merely as an epithet for this season’s novelties, it implies a process. No revolution is simply the result of personal originality. The maximum that such originality can achieve is madness: madness is revolutionary freedom confined to the self.