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The Guitar Player by Pablo Picasso

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The primary subject matter of abstract painting is the experience of perceiving the painting itself. An observer is not required to go deep in the analysis of its context or its extraneous significance—social, historical, political, cultural and so on. Rather, the observer is merely required to engage the entire visual narrative equipped only with one’s mental and physical senses (Jacobus & Martin, 2004). The immersion with the sensa or the sensuous is the most salient feature in an entire work in abstract form in relation to such an observer.

Thus, an observer who looks at an abstract painting with casual indifference, noting only the superficial representations and imagery, will most likely miss the point of the artwork. In this regard, a critical look, with the proper method of perceiving the abstract art through the senses, of Pablo Picasso’s Guitar Player (Buchheim, 1959) would yield to several layers of meaning not only as intended by the artist or as a result of the art movement, but also according to the person perceiving the work on his own right.

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At first glance, the dark strokes, the blurred shadows, and the dominant ochre hue mixed with light colors evoke the feeling of a sort of humble and honest purpose in the creation of the work. The entire canvass appears to be unsystematic as a whole but taking into consideration certain segments in the painting, one discovers a deliberate effort to infuse manner and method in the random sketches. There are parts that abstract, so to speak, the human figure of a man playing a musical instrument. Of course there is an automatic instruction to the observer to look for the man and the guitar as the title suggests. Yet, even without the hint, the figure manifests itself clearly when the skewed angles, irregularly shaped rectangles and the curved lines come together into a cohesive whole. What appears to be the head at the top-center of the canvass; may arguably be seen also as a simple criss-cross of lines with a splash of turbid brown and moss green colors, which give the painting a primary sense of organic quality. This effect is repeated and emphasized over the rest of the work by creating similar patterns. The section at the bottom, which is supposedly the guitar resting on the player’s feet, provides the same color and texture that pays a subtle degree of simplistic, humble and honest homage to the guitar player.

            Upon closer inspection the work of art reveals yet another layer. The veneer that enwraps the entire painting as one that belongs in the abstract cubist art movement is peeled off by dissecting the thick and wavy brush strokes. What is left is a pure appreciation of the masterful use of the brush and the paint regardless of the art movement designation. There are strong and bold square strokes which are present as smaller units of the entire geometric cubist sections. In other words, what is seen writ and painted large in the picture is simulated and reflected into smaller units that comprise the whole work. For lack of a better description, the squares appear to be scales of the human and instrument figure. The scales are like small bricks that lay the most important foundation of the work. In a sense, the scales as bricks invite one’s attention and perhaps draw out a sensa interpretation akin to building structures.

More specifically, the sensa in this case is the intuitive function of the painting as a symbol for hard-work and labor such as in the case of masons, carpenters and builders in general. In this case, what is being constructed is the image of a comely abode—a clay house which induces a general emotional state of being comfortable, secure and contentment. Thus, in one instance, with respect to the first layer, the guitar player stands out as an unassuming, modest and down-to-earth persona what with the choice of colors and the method in the strokes and lines. In another instance, on a deeper and technical level (perhaps), the small units of scales and bricks that hold together the entire canvass as a logical and cohesive whole are an abstraction of the profession of a guitar player per se and the connotations that come along with it. In other words, the painting contains an image of the guitar player and the message that the guitar player lives off through his honest labor by playing pleasant music for the entertainment of his audience.

            However, such a two-fold interpretation and appreciation of the art work does little justice to its intrinsic qualities. In fact, if one applies only the sensa there is absolutely no need to assign names to a particular image or figure in the abstract painting. Yet still, Pablo Picasso’s Guitar Player stripped off of its relative representations and symbolism, inspire the observer with the fluid and virtuous use of the paint and with the beautiful mix of style and technique that even one who is relatively uninitiated in the criticism of artworks can readily see the important and significant value of the art. Looking at the painting alone is enough to produce a sense of modesty and simultaneously elevate the mind of the observer to such heights that the artwork becomes more than just a painting but an entire magical experience.

            On another score, abstract painting is not one that makes reference to the outside world. Neither is it about a specific object or material designated and separated from the rest. It exists for the sake of existence even while the observer may formulate different instances of interpretation. Martin writes that “Abstract painting might seem to have nothing to do with reality because it contains no reference to such things” (Jacobus & Martin, 2004). The main idea is to stir emotional and intellectual discourse when the art is being viewed by and for itself alone. Or in other words, “by eliminating reference to everything but sense from their work, abstract painters liberate us from the habits of referring sense to specific objects and events” (2004). Abstract art, like the one discussed here, is successful not only because of its technical qualities and its sublime creation, but also because of the fact that it excites the sensitivities of its audience regardless of education, stature and culture. It appeals, in a large sense, to the humanity in each one of us. Unlike other forms of art, the Abstract from is pure and primordial such that a man enjoys and appreciate its attendant significance and meaning simply because of his natural propensity to perceive the abstract as a human being wholly capable of accessing his inner sense or sensuous energies or influence.


Buchheim, L.G. (1959). Picasso: A pictorial biography. (M.L. Heron, trans.). New York:

Viking Press.

Jacobus, L.A. & Martin, F.D. (2004). The humanities through the arts (7th ed.). San Francisco:

McGraw-Hill Book Company.

The image: Pablo Picasso’s Guitar Player

Cite this The Guitar Player by Pablo Picasso

The Guitar Player by Pablo Picasso. (2016, Jul 28). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-guitar-player-by-pablo-picasso/

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