Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, $17.00
Houston Book Club - http://www.HoustonBookClub.com.
October, 2004 book club selection. Selected by Louis Hemmi.
Art and Science in the 20th Century
book's central premise is that an artist on the cutting edge
shares personal and intellectual elements with a scientist
working on a breakthrough. Dr. Miller parallels the lives
of two seemingly disparate men. Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein
contributed significantly to society's body of knowledge despite
many hardships and some failures along the way. The reader
comes away with a sense of the human side of these geniuses
of the twentieth century.
While most of us know that
Picasso was a ladies' man, Einstein was one also. A friend
of his second wife Elsa wrote, "He had the kind of male
beauty that especially at the beginning of the century, caused
Picasso's (1881-1973) major
innovation was cubism (French art critic Louis Vauxelles coined
the term cubism), and Einstein (1879-1955) was consumed by
a passion for defining aspects of electromagnetism. While
his 1921 Nobel Prize for physics was for " . . . his
services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery
of the law of the photoelectric effect," in popular culture
he is probably better known for the Theory of Relativity.
Picasso's earliest works,
followed by his Blue (1901-1904) and Rose (1904 - 1906) periods
firmly established him as a classical artist first and foremost.
Einstein can be termed a classical physicist, as he was firmly
steeped in the discoveries that preceded him, providing a
bridge to his innovations. While Einstein and Picasso indeed
forged into uncharted territory, several others were on the
cusp of doing similar work. If each had been born, say fifty
years later, doubtless they would have worked on entirely
The Zeitgeist of the time
was one of a move away from realistic, positivistic understandings.
X-rays, wireless telegraphy, the airplane and the automobile
blurred distinctions between the seen and the invisible, the
distant and the near. What one saw was not necessarily what
one got. What was once opaque became transparent. Nascent
fantasy writers speculated on ways to describe dimensions
greater than three, and leadership on this point was clearly
exercised by mathematicians, both professional and amateur.
Mathematics is the link between art and science in this confluence.
The author does a competent
job of documenting the character of these two figures, and
we learn much of their personal lives, including their children
(acknowledged and not), Picasso's pets, and the men's' friends.
Both enjoyed the camaraderie of confidants with whom they
discussed philosophy. Philosophers who impressed them most
included Schopenhauer for Einstein, and Nietzsche for Picasso.
Einstein's favored socializing consisted of discussing philosophy,
particularly Schopenhauer, with a group of friends called
the "Olympic Academy."
As Picasso's friend Polinare
recounted, Nietzsche called for ". . . explosive developments
in art, unhindered of self expression." Nietzsche sees
artists as ". . . heroic, defiant and full of eruptive
sexual energy, overthrowing expected styles." This resonated
in Picasso, leaving a lasting impression.
Picasso's art varied with
the woman he was with, his dog, and the friends with whom
he spent. For many years, though he lived in Montmartre, his
French was never very good. While he did read Spanish translations
of philosophy, he learned most from his friends, including
Poincare and Polinare.
There is no evidence that
Einstein was particularly saddened about the loss of his only
daughter, born to his wife before they married. He was jobless
and penniless (1900 - 1902) when Maric gave their daughter
up for adoption. Einstein never laid eyes on his daughter,
while all five of Picasso's children did know their father.
Einstein's indigence was so severe that he suffered from malnutrition;
he was troubled the rest of his life by various gastric maladies.
His failure to obtain suitable employment is ascribed to personality
conflicts with eminent professors and his mediocre grades.
Picasso enthusiastically embraced
the media of photography and film to evolve as a cubist. In
order to derive and present multiple presentations of a subject
on a two-dimensional plan, he took thousands of photographs
and literally sliced and pasted them together. Kandinsky and
others moved on to pure abstracts (perhaps influenced a bit
by Kandinsky's interest in Russian mysticism), Picasso was
determined to always remain faithful to his determination
of cubism as a representation of something real, enhanced
by imagination. Photography was perhaps more important to
him in the creative process than his vast quantities of sketches.
The best-known cubists were
Picasso and Georges Braque, and they were good friends. Matisse
was twelve years older, and though Picasso admired him, they
were never close friends. Picasso vehemently denied that he
was influenced by African art (he was often said to have borrowed
ideas from African tribal masks). However, the primitive artist
paints what he knows rather than just what he sees, just like
Both Picasso and Braque were
probably influenced by Paul Cézanne's landscapes. A
series of their landscapes in 1908 seems to bear a resemblance
to Cézanne's style. They used similar color schemes,
and blurred boundaries between sky and earth.
This book is truly worth reading
for those who want to learn about these two men, replete with
their quirks, foibles, and peccadilloes. I enjoyed it, and
spent more time rereading parts of this work than any other
book in years.
Louis Hemmi's Web Site - www.Hemmi.US
eMail me at "Louis @
HoustonBookClub.com" (remove anti-spam spaces)
Book Review by Louis Hemmi - "Einstein Picasso:Space,
Time, and the Beauty that Causes Havoc"