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Cubism in a Nutshell: A Modern Art Movement

"Cubism is ... a picture for its own sake. Literary Cubism does the same thing in literature, using reality merely as a means and not as an end." ― Max Jacob, The Cubist Poets in Paris: An Anthology

The Foxes. Painting by Franz Marc, oil on canvas, 1913.

In line with Picasso and Braque's development of the technique, the synthetic imitation of the natural form was processed to render it agreeable to skewed simultaneous vision. It is often considered the first truly 'modern' artistic movement. Cubism combines complicated geometric shapes with sharp angles, stressed analysis of the composition, African masks, solid colors, and the simultaneous representation of different points in time.

History of Cubism

The history of Cubism was formed by various artists who were experimenting with different ways of depicting their subject, not only through the use of shadow and shadowed lines, but also through color. The first artist to initiate this art movement was Pablo Picasso, who has been credited as the founder of Cubism. He developed this style after returning home to Spain after viewing Italy's Classical Art. His bold new style became an instant success. In essence, the art movement was a development of realism by a group of artists who worked in France from 1907 to 1914. Two of the main figures, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, created groundbreaking works – often with scenes they borrowed from their day-to-day life.

Progressive or Synthetic Cubism

Cubism made a sudden jump in 1912. Eluding logical thought, it shifted from representation to abstraction. The trend predominately featured non-linear space and time and human faces cropping up in the background. It was the beginnings of Cubo-Futurism.

Head of Peasant Girl. Painting by Kazimir Malevich, oil on canvas, 1912-1913.

These experiments led to the creation of a painting that breaks itself into different, constantly changing smaller squares or cubes. Cubism also found its way to the world of melodies. Some of the most notable Cubist music pieces are featured by composers, such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. However, there are many debates around the true definition of Cubism in music.

Characteristics of Cubism

Pablo Picasso described Cubism as the decomposition of space into various simultaneous multiple views of the subject. Cubists would use one (single) scene, but break it up into geometric planes, allowing for cross-sections and different angles of the same point of interest. Whilst there are many styles of Cubism in art, cubic literature has an extensive yet often forgotten history; its characteristics make it incredibly original and effective. Hence, Cubism – also referred to as 'cubiform' or 'analytic cubism' – is characterized by a subjective treatment of language and space.

Generally, this style has been described as a conflicting, jarring, brutally reductive warping of lines, or analytical periods that do not omit differences. There is no one agreed-upon definition of Cubism that includes what characteristics this form should have. Most people agree that the leading idea behind it — though not always being understood or followed by many artists — is to deconstruct lines by breaking them up and reforming them in a new way.

Cubism in Art and Literature

Cubism was innovative in two distinct aspects; construction (or the idea that any piece of an artwork could be unified with any other) and weaving (the simultaneous presence of multiple perspectives in one work). A work does not need to strictly adhere to one, single perspective or angle of approach. Rather, there are several angles that might happen simultaneously. The principles are present in both visual art and literary forms. The style was popularized in painting and sculpture, and can also be found in other mediums, for example, comics.

Cubist paintings have been characterized as being analytical, expressive, dynamic, intellectual, and sharp. In fact, it is most easily understood as a visual style where the artist presents his subject from an oblique angle, as simultaneously depicted from a number of perspectives. One of the most notable paintings in this style is Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, by Pablo Picasso.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Painting by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 1907.

When people first saw Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, it confused and shocked them. It was different from anything else on the market at the time. But this painting has led us to many more new artistic styles, even though it is over 100 years old.

In literature, Cubism means including fragmentation, shifting perspectives, and strange combinations of subjects. These characteristics have occurred in literature as textual experimentation with selected techniques, such as a lack of tools for linear ordering. Some examples of works include: "The Ambassadors" by Henry James, 1903, "A la recherche du temps perdu" by Marcel Proust and "En las nubes" by Concha Oliveira, 1972.

"Love loves to love love." — an example of cubic literature from Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce

Woman with a Mandolin. Painting by George Braque, oil on canvas, c.1910.

Criticism and Science

Analytic Cubism was composed at a time when individuals were trying to understand how objects relate to space. Individuals in this art movement were the ones who started the "schools" of Cubism. The first school in Analytic Cubism was inspired by scientific discoveries and the artists' desire to take these pieces of knowledge and represent them using their own artistic visions.

Image Sources

The art post blog, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Painting by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 1907

Wiki Art, The Foxes. Painting by Franz Marc, oil on canvas, 1913

George Baraque, Woman with a Mandolin. Painting by George Braque, oil on canvas, c.1910

Academic, Head of Peasant Girl. Paintijng by Kazimir Malevich, oil on canvas, 1912-1913.


Stoyan V. Sgourev, How Paris Gave Rise to Cubism (and Picasso): Ambiguity and Fragmentation in Radical Innovation, ESSEC Business School Cergy-Pontoise Campus (ESSEC Business School Campus de Cergy-Pontoise), 2013

Cubism [REVISED AND EXPANDED]. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism: Taylor and Francis, 2016. Date Accessed 25 Apr. 2019.

Alfred H. Barr Jr., Cubism and abstract art, Published for the Museum of Modern Art by Arno Press, 1966

George Yudice, Cubist aesthetics in painting and poetry, published by De Gruyter Mouton October 1, 2009


Patricia Estenoso
Patricia Estenoso
Jan 17, 2022

A nice exploration of Cubism. Well done!


Jan 17, 2022

As a art history majored student, ı am so happy that you have covered this topic ! I will cite your name on my work, thank you.😊


Unknown member
Jan 17, 2022

A great insight into Cubism in art and literature - thanks!

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Pourandokht Mazaheri

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