The Cubist Vision
GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963)
'Viaduct at L'Estaque', 1908 (oil on canvas)
The Cubists saw the limitations of perspective as an obstacle to progress. The fact that a picture drawn in perspective could only work from one viewpoint restricted their options. As the image was drawn from a fixed position, the result was frozen, like a snapshot, but the Cubists wanted to make pictures that reached beyond the rigid geometry of perspective. They wanted to introduce the idea of 'relativity' - how the artist perceived and selected elements from the subject, fusing both their observations and memories into the one concentrated image. To do this the Cubists examined the way that we see.
When you look at an object your eye scans it, stopping to register on a certain detail before moving on to the next point of interest and so on. You can also change your viewpoint in relation to the object allowing you to look at it from above, below or from the side. Therefore, the Cubists proposed that your sight of an object is the sum of many different views and your memory of an object is not constructed from one angle, as in perspective, but from many angles selected by your sight and movement. Cubist painting, paradoxically abstract in form, was an attempt at a more realistic way of seeing.
A typical Cubist painting depicts real people, places or objects, but not from a fixed viewpoint. Instead it will show you many parts of the subject at one time, viewed from different angles, and reconstructed into a composition of planes, forms and colours. The whole idea of space is reconfigured: the front, back and sides of the subject become interchangeable elements in the design of the work.