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About Face Again - Part Three
Picasso's Open Secret

© John Fudjack and Patricia Dinkelaker - February, 2000

Section Five - Twin Figures in Alternate Realities
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In this section we discuss Picasso's personal psychology. We want to show in a simple and compelling way what, in our view, made the man tick. And we hope to be able to suggest how this relates to his professional 'project', as we've outlined that in Part 1 and Part 2. We strive to do this in a way that shows how the individual's 'dominant function' can come to be expressed in a UNIQUE manner that can have profound psychological significance for the individual.

It is not easy to come to know others in a way that appreciates them AS unique individuals. We are not inclined to think that labels of any kind - psychiatric labels, personality type labels, or art labels for that matter - can capture the essence of the individual. So it is only after having made a thorough study of Picasso, which required the reading of dozens of biographies and a seemingly endless stream of books and articles on his work and its significance, that we presume to know enough about the man to offer our opinon on who, in essence, he was. And then only because we had the good forture to have happened upon an insight that permitted a host of curious facts about Picasso's life to suddenly fall into place - around one exemplary incident that occured in his early childhood.

As a boy Picasso would experience the illness and death of a sibling - his younger sister, age eight, whom he loved dearly. Under the weight of this momentous event, Picasso's psychological space would suffer a severe warp, and remain forevermore frozen in a distinctive shape that would govern his behavior for the rest of his life. Like the way in which a curved Einsteinian space guides the movement of the physical objects that travel through it, its influence would be subtle but pervasive.

To the death of his beloved sister, a tragic enough event in its own right,
Sleeping Nude, 1904
would be added an ironic twist. As his sister lay on her deathbed - she like the 'sleeper' in many of his paintings, he like the 'watcher' - the child prayed to God, begging that she be spared. In exchange for this he was prepared to offer, in the kind-hearted naivity of youth, the ultimate sacrifice. If she were to become well, he promised, he would never again paint. For a precocious child prodigy who, at the tender age of 13 was already recognized as a skilled painter from whom great future works were expected, this would have been the equivalent of sacrificing the very core of his being. If things had happened the way that he prayed they might, he would never have touched a paint brush again, and there would have been no 'Picasso', no 'Demoiselles', no 'cubism'.

He very rarely spoke about this tragic event in his life, and only to a few close friends. But some biographers have gathered enough clues about what may have occured on that occasion to put forward an intriguing hypothesis. He failed, they surmise, to keep his end of the bargain. And so when his sister died - and this part is OUR conjecture, 20a not theirs - he is likely to have blamed himself, and his art.

As a consequence of the manner in which he had bound his art to her life, and vice versa - and the need to understand her tragic loss and assuage his own guilt - he would adopt a way of seeing things that permitted a most intimate exchange to continue to take place between mutually exclusive realms of existence, the twin worlds into which he and his sister were separated by death. This ontology 21 would allow him to conceive of beings in these twin worlds as literally involved in 'dying each other's life and living each other's death', to use Heraclitus's words (see [1] [2).

The point where the two worlds meet - the only point at which such a profound interchange can take place - would act as the fulcrum around which Picasso's psychological reality would thereafter pivot. This is the point at which intimacy runs so deep that it crosses every line that distinguishes self from other. The flood gates of creativity open and the creative act is revealed as a transformation in which art is capable of tapping directly into life's energies and stealing its power. At this point, the art work can literally come alive for its creator, as it did for Pygmalian. 'Each picture is a phial filled with blood,' as Roland Penrose, in his biography of Picasso, said of his paintings.

But the two - art and life - are not only mutually exclusive, they are inversely proportional. And the cost of an invigorated art of this sort is that we, as biological life forms, must as a result wither.

Or those whom we touch. And therein lay Picasso's greatest fear, and the source of a tremendous sense of guilt in him - that his art is achieved not merely at his own expense (which would be a cost that one might be able to endure) but at the expense of another's life force - his beloved's. From this perspective, art is not only a deal that one strikes with the devil, it is a type of alchemy that is far from being an exact science. We cannot control from whose pool of life energies we draw in our most creative moment, or, for that matter, who it is that manifests themselves in our art - what spirits come alive through us.

We are not suggesting that the picture we paint above constitutes a universal truth about the way things in fact happen, something the reader should herself believe in. We are, rather, trying to render as accurate a portrait as possible of the psychological space in which Picasso found himself precariously positioned. Interestingly, in many aspects this type of world view was shared by many artists at the time. It was what made Otto Rank's psychotherpeutic theories and practices - which explored the N-S ('art' versus 'life') struggle 22 - very popular.

Even if Picasso's presumed tragic failure to follow through with his pledge is only apochryphal, legends of this sort reveal profound psychological truths. The explanatory construct that this one offers provides a key to the meaning behind many of Picasso's most enigmatic behaviors. It sheds light on things that his biographers all have difficulty explaining - behaviors that have thus remained, to date, the anomalous pieces of an unsolved puzzle. Our hypothesis, which construes Picasso's pledge as a key formative experience in his life, provides an explanation for -

  1. why, a few times during a long and prolific life as a painter (a painter who produced - according to some accounts - over 50,000 works) - Picasso would, without explanation, suddenly give up painting or have problems with his work. These were the occasions, as it turns out, on which his children were about to be born! It was as if continuing with his painting would interfere with a successful child-birth, in the same way that, in his view, it had with his sister's ability to remain alive.

  2. why he named his daughter after his sister and also gave her a nickname - 'Maya' (i.e., illusion) suggestive of the relationship between art and reality.

  3. why Picasso fretted about his children, especially his daughters, in their infant years. He frequently visiting them as they slept at night, or had his wife do so - in order to make sure that they had not stopped breathing.

  4. Picasso's sketch of Conchita, his
    sister. She died at the age of 8.
    why portraits of his own children, as some critics have pointed out, tend to escape the distortions that otherwise appear with such constancy in his paintings that everyone has come to see these as a distinctive feature of his approach to portraiture. In this particular region of psychological space - where his art and the lives of his own children overlap - he apparently wanted to resist the urge to depict the presence of that inevitable enantiodromic point at which life can shift suddenly and unexpectedly into death. It is as if, by NOT incorporating spatial anomalies into their portraits, these cross-over points could be avoided, and the threat of death annulled.


  5. why Picasso took younger and younger women as lovers - women who were, in the eyes of society, mere children. It is the childlike virginal quality - the pure potential - of these women that attracted him. They were reminiscent of his sister, with whom - whether or not there had been actual sexual attraction, or contact - he had nevertheless bonded 'in the flesh', as it were - as real (i.e., embodied) individuals.

  6. why, in the process of producing what some believe to be the painting of the century - his Demoiselle D'Avignon - he would abruptly halt work on it at approximately the same time that Fernande, unable to have children, adopts a 13 year old girl. It is her intention that the three will live together 'as a family'. Shortly thereafter, however, Raymonde is returned to the orphanage (some biographers suspect that she picked up on an attraction he had to her), at which point he would resume work on the painting - but now in an altogether different style. At this point his relationship with Fernande is, in effect, over.

    In the midst of what was to perhaps be the most creative moment in a prolific and illustrious career the work was interrupted and a sudden move in an opposite direction took place - toward the family 'life' that that he typically experienced as interfering with his 'art'. The interruption would be short-lived, however, and this affair would have the same outcome as the incident with his sister - the child is abandonned, and the painter returns to painting, with enhanced creativity.

  7. why, although deeply loving the women with whom he had relationships (in a way which they would find nearly irresistable) he also seemed always to suck from them their very life-blood - sacrificing them, as it were, to his art.

  8. why he loved these women only until they, in turn, became mothers and thereby lost not only their sexual attractiveness in his eyes, but their 'potential'. Having manifested their own natural powers of creation (an S-based type of creativity that was anathema to his N-based personality preferences), they would forfeit their innocence, their status as 'pure' potential, and his continued attentions.

Although our hypothesis also offers an explanation for a variety of other things -

  • the unusual circumstances that surrounded his grandson's suicide,
  • why Picasso thought of his paintings as 'intercesseurs' (mediators) and himself as an 'exorcist',
  • the often repeated legend about Picasso being brought back to life after having been 'born dead',
  • why he had refused ever to meet his daughter's children,
  • the significance of 'The Four Little Girls' (the surrealist play he wrote during one period in which he turned away from painting), and so on -

- we will not go into those things at this point.

Conclusion - Centricity, Eccentricity, and Liminocentricity in Picasso's World
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In closing we would like to mention one particularly significant variant of the 'sleeper/watcher' motif that occurs in Picasso's paintings. This version casts the sleeper as a young girl and the watcher as a minotaur. In a 1934 painting called 'Blind Minotaur Guided by a Little Girl', the child is seen leading the minotaur by the hand, to the 'other shore' after having just arrived in a 'new land' by way of boat.

In later life Picasso, as is well-known, regularly represented himself in his paintings as a minotaur. And the minotaur was often accompanied by a little girl. Sometimes either one or the other, depicted as sleeping, is being watched by the other. In this particular picture, however, that is not the case. Neither is literally asleep, although the minotaur is blind, and the setting (the 'other shore') represents a borderline separating parallel states - life and death.

Tankard, in his analysis of this painting, takes the girl to be Picasso's first daughter, Maya, because of her resemblence to her mother, Marie-Therese. Maya, however, would not be born until 1935. In light of the fact that Picasso had once expressed his belief that he had, on certain occasions, painted pictures of individuals whom he would only much later meet (an interesting variant of the Pygmalian theme), it is not altogether surprising that Tankard should express the opinion that this painting was, in a manner of speaking, 'prophetic'. The image did indeed prefigure the birth,

Family of Saltimbanques
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in reality, of Maya - in a way similar to the one in which 'Saltimbanques' (1905) seems to have prefigured the adoption of Raymonde. In Saltimbanques there is again a little girl, suspected of being Raymonde, 23 who holds the hand of the figure representing Picasso. In fact each of Picasso's daughters seems to have been prefigured by a painting, or a dream - a prophetic dream that Francois had in the case of their daughter Paloma.

In any case, Tankard is probably right in viewing the girl in the minotaur painting as playing a 'redemptive' role with respect to Picasso. It does not matter much whether the girl is Maya or his sister Conchita since Picasso failed to psychologically distinguish between the two. The daughter was, in a manner of speaking, an incarnation of the spirit of Conchita.

So in the minotaur painting it is as if Conchita has come back to life, conceived as Maya, to redeem him. She accomplishes this by leading him into that 'other', undifferentiated realm which has, for such a long time, been her abode. All of this takes place IN the painting, of course. The artwork is the vehicle that makes the return possible. But when, in real life, a daughter hovers on the brink of birth, all art seems to come to a standstill.

Here we again have what appears to be a 'concord of contradictions', or inversion of realities - but this time it occurs at a very personal, psychological level. And in a painting like Saltimbanques, where geometrical form apparently follows psychological content, there is an intriguing redundancy that crosses 'levels' of description.For if Rudolph Arnheim is correct, the very composition of this painting 'reveals a centric symmetry between two inverted contradictions: functional detachment countered by physical contact on the left and functional attraction overcoming physical separation on the right'. 24

At first glance Saltimbanques, according to Arnheim, appears to have three principal centers - the two boys in the middle, the three figures on the left, and the woman on the right. Parsed in this way, there is a disturbing lack of balance in the picture.

But on further inspection, he argues, it is revealed that 'a difference of compositional function splits the cluster of five figures into two groups.' By 'compositional function', he means what the people in the picture are doing.

Dynamically, a curious tension is created by the contradiction between the close spatial contact of the central group with the lateral one and its functional separation from it. This tension, however, is balanced by the very opposite contradiction in the other half of Picasso's picture. Here the spatial distance of the boys from the woman is bridged by the strong diagonal vector that leads through their heads to the head of the woman and is supported by the direction of their gaze.

The composition now reveals a centric symmetry between two inverted contradictions: functional detachment counteracted by physical contact on the left and functional attraction overcoming physical separation on the right. This symmetry constituted a stable centricity, very unlike the disturbing lack of balance we notice at first glance.

There is, in other words, a latent 'order' beneath the seeming 'disorder' in the manifest content of the picture. The harmony is not superficial, but GENUINE - insofar as it permits the contradictions present at the lower-level of description to remain but incorporates them into a higher-order synthesis.

Interestingly, that is not all that can be said about the composition in this painting, according to Arnheim. The 'centricity' in the painting, subtly but firmly established by the methods described above, is counteracted by an 'eccentric' movement that follows the spiral of human figures (and the direction of their gaze) outward - from the girl at the CENTER to the woman at the right, whose gaze catapults us OUTSIDE of the picture's frame.

We would add that the strongest connection, the REAL connection, is ironically between the figures at the outermost and innermost extreme - the mysterious girl in the middle (Raymonde ... or is it Conchita? - we do not know, because we cannot see her face) and the woman at the right (Fernande, whose face we do see). As the spiral winds its way outward, the face of the feminine is slowly turned toward us, in a an interesting variation of the 'serpentination' motif.

The contrary 'centric' and 'eccentric' movements, to use Arnheim's words, are thus synthesized in what we would call a 'liminocentric' structure.

And this brings us back, in a full-circle sweep, to where we began this paper, and to the material, in About Face, on the role that complex 'interpenetrating orders of existence' play in the integration of the functions via liminocentric structuring.

Footnotes and References

20a. Francoise Gilot would write the following about the birth of their daughter, Paloma:

I didn't know at the time that it was a recurring pattern, but after Maya's birth, Pablo began abandonning Marie-Therese and seemed unable to get on with his work. The birth of a girl in Pablo's life was clearly traumatic. He had made a pact with God over his little sister, and now he was reliving the trauma of that pact over the birth of his daughter: she might die and then he would feel terribly guilty, or she would live and his work would suffer. All his unresolved fears were activated again. He kept saying how beautiful Paloma was, but he was restless, agitated. It was a creatively barren time, and he even started talking about getting another apartment where I could be with the children when we were in Paris. (356, in Huffington).

Although she saw the connection between many of Picasso's rather odd behaviors and his sister's death, its not clear that she knew the precise nature of the 'pact' that he had made, or understood the degree to which he felt that he (and his art) had been responsible for her death and feared that this would be repeated in the case of his own daughters.
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21. The following words, from Blake's 'Eternity in an Hour', seem to express a similar ontology:

Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in Eternity.

Other variants of this theme occur throughout literature. A strong 'twin' motif runs through Dicken's 'Tale of Two Cities', for instance. Sidney Carton exchanges places with Charles Darnay, and dies for him. But through Darnay, Carton lives - and it is a 'far better' life, Dickens tells us, than he might have had had he stayed alive.
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22. Are individuals who have a struggle between N and S more likely to show up with preference orders that have N and S as the first two functions? Preference orders such as N-S-T-F, N-S-F-T, S-N-T-F or S-N-F-T? Even if N and S have some sort of relationshipas 'diametrical opposites', if they have an enantiodromic relationship (which means that they are apt to 'turn into' each other at some point), could this not be expressed in such an (unconventional) order? In this were the case, functions that usually stand at opposite ends of the individual's preference order might wind up adjacent to each other. One would expect this type of thing to happen in liminocentrically structured arrangements - in which the 'center', which appears to be as distant as one can get from the 'periphery', actually turns out to be identical with it.
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23. In 1952 William Lieberman identified the Harlequin in the painting as Picasso. In 1958 Roland Penrose observed a resemblence between the fat jester and Apollinaire. And in 1972 Theodore Reff identified the two youths in the picture as Max Jacob (the tall, thin, drum carrying acrobat) and Andre Salmon (the shorter, younger performer). He also cautiously suggested that the seated woman at the far right is Fernande Olivier, and concluded that the Family of Saltimbanques was, in fact, the select circle of painters, poets, and friends with whom Picasso surrounded himself, the so-called 'bande a Picasso' ('Picasso's gang'). In 1977 Ronald Johnson, building on Reff's thesis, identified the remaining figure, the little girl whose back is turned to the viewer, as Raymonde, the child that Picasso and Fernande adopted from a Paris ophanage. Raymonde, however, was not to be adopted until 1907, and the Saltimbanques was painted in 1905.
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24. Rudolph Arnheim, The Power of the Center - a Study of Composition in the Visual Arts, 1988 (Berkeley: University of California Press), page 131-132].
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