Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

Olivier Berggruen on Picasso


Photo via Olivier Berggruen

This is entry #78 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.

Philosopher: Olivier Berggruen, independent scholar

Artwork: La Vie (1903) by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), oil on canvas, 196.5 cm by 129.2 cm, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Words: To me, few paintings have the emotional resonance of Picasso’s La Vie. On one side, there is a young, naked couple huddled together; on the other side, a draped woman holding a child. They look like lonely outcasts, a family of street performers resigned to their fate, a life of indigence and alienation—perhaps the cost of their bohemian ways and artistic inclinations. The young Picasso identified with this crowd of jugglers and musicians, since he depicted himself disguised as a harlequin in Au Lapin Agile. There are two further enigmatic scenes within La Vie: a man clinging to a woman, and the latter figure crouching in despair. All in all, three tableaux-vivants, eloquent metaphors for the arc of life, condensed in blue.

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