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Sex and Salvation according to Picasso

May 26 2011
Seeing the huge Picasso exhibit now touring the world reminded me of why Christians should make time for the fine arts.

Amid the press of daily demands, most of us think we don't have time for enjoying the fine arts. A recent visit to a Picasso exhibit reminded me why Christians especially should make time for it.

If Horace's adage is correct, that good art both "teaches and delights" (a description that certainly applies to the works of the Creator), then Pablo Picasso has rightly earned his reputation as one of the great artists of the modern age.

"Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris," an exhibit touring worldwide during renovation of its permanent home in Paris, proved Picasso's ability to delight even before gaining admission to the show. On the day I attended, traffic was gridlocked, the parking garage was full, and those like me with pre-paid reservations for an appointed time found out our tickets granted a place in line with hundreds of other ticket holders. And no wonder: During its three-month run at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (one of only three U.S. stops), a whopping 229,729 people made time for Picasso.

Of course, just because something is popular doesn't mean it's good. But Picasso really is good. Known for his place in the avant-garde as one of the originators of cubism, Picasso also produced works in the schools of naturalism and classicism. This exhibit of 176 pieces from among those Picasso selected himself for his personal collection featured a breathtaking array of mediums, styles, genres, and techniques: chalk drawings, classical portraits, sculptures, collages, bronze busts, and photographs.

To dismiss Picasso's more abstract paintings as mere child's play, as some do, is a great error. This was a serious artist. To prepare for the creation of his greatest masterpiece, Les Desmoiselles d 'Avignon (1907), Picasso produced 1,000 sketches and studies. Although the eleven-room exhibit represented a fraction of the works produced over a lifetime (Picasso began painting as a teenager and didn't stop until his death in 1973, at age 92) from it, a worldview clearly emerges. So, too, does the reminder that Christians who wish to have significant influence in the culture ignore the arts at their peril.

In How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer explains, "In great art the technique fits the worldview being presented." On this test alone, Picasso passes with flying colors. Les Desmoiselles d 'Avignon was shocking both for its content (nude prostitutes) and its form (human figures reduced to geometric angles representing multiple perspectives).

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Sex and Salvation according to Picasso