Pablo Picasso: A modern master

I just finished a brief examination of Picasso’s full and long life in the book Pablo Picasso: A Modern Master by one Richard Leslie. I’m not sure the book is worth commenting on in depth, but I sat down to write a little about it and we’ll see what the html editor spits out.

The presentation of Leslie’s short biographical work is impressive. The reproductions of Picasso’s work are very nice, printed on heavy, glossy paper. It feels good in your hands. That’s where my praise for the book ends, however. The short work is adequate enough in giving a person an overview of the artist’s life, but it does so with pretentious and unsubstantiated language. More than once I read a paragraph and came away wondering what orifice the writer pulled that out of. These recurring and somewhat convoluted observations would bother me less if they were elaborated upon. They might actually be accurate or warranted statements if Leslie gave us citations, or even if he prefaced certain paragraphs with “in my opinion,” but the author makes no reference to where his ideas are coming from.

As already noted, the writing does communicate the basics of Picasso’s life and work, from his youth and background to cubism and from harlequins to minotaurs. Unfortunately, the images of his paintings don’t follow the text with any semblance of order. I found myself paging around after seeing a reference to a particular work, wondering if it was pictured in the book on some far flung back page. The writing is chronological. The images are, in a very loose sense, attempting to chronological. But not.

Picasso’s Massacre in Korea from 1951

I eluded a few weeks ago to the fact that, as I read through this short book, my respect for Picasso was ebbing. This caused me to wonder where this respect came from in the first place. Sure I knew who the artist was from college courses — even from culture at large — but I knew very little of him other than “cubism” and “Guernica.” He’s held up as this mythical figure in the art world, but few details go along with this unspoken heroism in my experience. It takes independent research to really examine an artist’s life and body of work. History classes don’t cut it.

I’m still smitten with Guernica. The painting above of the war in Korea is impressive too, although this painting isn’t one from the book. A lot of the paintings and sculptures featured in A Modern Master come across as scrappy. I’m hard pressed to see the craft I expected to see from a man so revered in the art world. Perhaps this book chose poorly when selecting works to represent the life of this prolific artist.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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