Understanding Cubism


understanding cubism cubist art  

Cubism, if ever there was an artistic style which was the equivalent of a magicians trick, then Cubism would be it. 

Cubism of course is an early 20th-Century art movement which brought European painting and sculpture historically forward toward 20th-Century modern art. It was one of the art worlds defining moments and perhaps the most influential of art movements of the 20th-Century.

I find cubism intellectually stimulating, the works have a uniqueness and beauty and as you all know, I love art which is disruptive and breaks the rules. 

Here in the 21st-Century we have yet to see an art movement which disrupts and inspires as much as abstract and cubism did. Sure we have seen art which reflects 21st-Century globalization, art which reflects the accelerating connectivity of human activity and information across time and space, but we haven’t really seen anything yet that is as disruptive or as defining as either abstract or cubism. 

The style is often copied today but I have to ask the question, have we as artists stopped innovating in the way that Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso innovated?

Cubism can be split into two distinct areas. Analytical cubism which is said to have run until around 1912, with its muted colours, when artists would be serious in their depiction of the subject, and the second area, which involves simple shapes and vibrant colours and the appearance of a sense of fun in what is known as synthetic cubism.

Analytical cubism would involve the artist undertaking a close examination and analysis of the subject being painted. It would then be translated into flat geometric shapes, angles and lines, and it would be created often using dark and muted muted colour palettes. 

The almost crystal like creations were often created with an interweaving of lines and planes which were broken and fragmented and with very little in the way of tonal differentiation. 

Synthetic cubism was a latter phase of cubism running from around 1912 to 1914 and introduced a much brighter colour palette. The artists would add texture and patterns and often experimented with collage using the newspapers of the day. 

The cubist painters often took their influences from Native American and African art, but it was also based on Paul Cézanne's three principles of geometricity, simultaneity, and passage, it was a way in which artists could describe the fourth dimension. A visual representation of the world as it is and not as it seems.

There is a belief that Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon’ (1907) was the first of the cubist paintings. It showed geometricity, simultaneity, and passage, yet it was never shown publicly until 1916. 

So could it be argued that the work of George Braque and his series of ‘L'Estaque’ landscapes which were created in 1908 were actually the first paintings of this cubist movement? Matisse certainly thought so. 

Braque and Picasso formed a partnership. They had become consumed with the work of Cézanne and his feelings for the architecture which underlies nature, and him making the statement that “everything in nature is based on the sphere, cone, and cylinder’.

Braque and Picasso’s perception of reality was entirely different to that of Cézanne’s. Whereas Cézanne’s work suggested that the study of an object was the real solution to all of the painter’s problems, Braque and Picasso wanted to solve the problem of representing complexity of reality in art.  They believed that our knowledge of things was composed of its multiple relationships to each other and wanted to change the point of view from which we see any object.

Of course other artists such as Juan Gris were also credited with influencing cubism and although literature is littered with the likes of Braque and Picasso, for me Gris created some of the strongest works.  

Still life with bottle of Bordeaux -Juan Gris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Still life with bottle of Bordeaux -Juan Gris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Born José Victoriano González on the 23rd March 1887, he later in 1905 adopted the more distinctive name Juan Gris. He moved to Paris in 1906 and became friends with Henri Matisse and Georges Braque, and followed the lead of his other friend, Pablo Picasso.

Gris began to paint seriously in 1910 (when he gave up working as a satirical cartoonist), developing at this time a personal Cubist style. Gris exhibited for the first time at the 1912 Salon des Indépendants with a painting entitled Hommage à Pablo Picasso.

Gris was the third great cubist painter, but there is little denying that Gris’s works were much more joyful than the works of either Braque or Picasso. His interpretation of cubism was so much more personal. 

Cubism much like abstract is often misunderstood. As many people dislike cubism as there are people who like it. Like abstract it has divided opinion. Some say that it is a neat formal experiment, others see cubism as edgy, and others say they wouldn’t buy it from a thrift store. 

But the aim of cubism was to dispense with the traditional methods of seeing things. As humans we like aesthetics, the brain decides what is and isn’t visually appealing. Generally we like perspective, fluidity, and anatomy, definition of form, composition, and colour. All of these were thrown out of the window with cubism. 

It broke away from an established way of doing things, it disrupted the art world, and most of all it shocked people. 

Today I often hear the art world say that it likes to be shocked, it likes disruption and those who walk un-treaded ground, yet when un-treaded ground is walked, it alienates people too. 

Much like abstract art there was a time when I would see a cubist work and couldn’t see the appeal. I’m not sure on a scale of one to ten just how much my artistic tastes have changed over the years, but I know that my tastes have changed more over the past half a dozen or so years than anytime previously. 

I think part of my problem with cubism is that I would look at it, and not actually see it. We humans do that apparently, often only spending a few seconds in front of an artwork in a museum or gallery before moving on to something that appeals a little more, what we don’t do though is see, and think.

But how do you see rather than look at art? Looking at a piece of art allows you to describe it, but seeing a piece of art is all about applying meaning to it. But we also need to think, thinking about what you are observing and the possible meanings. 

Often it is other information which helps us to understand the possible meanings and context of the art. When the work was created, what was going on at the time, often cubism reflected what was going on in the world at the time, yet we often casually dismiss it.

By Ceridwen, CC BY-SA 2.0 

By Ceridwen, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14349065

Guernica at the Whitechapel. It is no idle whim to include an image of this tapestry reproduction of Picasso's great anti-war painting but because it is so significant for the political and cultural stance of the Whitechapel Gallery, the only British venue to exhibit the painting in 1939. 

The original work is now too fragile to leave Madrid; this tapestry was loaned to the gallery, for its re-opening, by its owner Margaretta Rockefeller. Normally it hangs in the United Nations in New York where in 2003 it was controversially veiled prior to a speech by Colin Powell on the eve of the Iraq war.

This 1937 work ‘Guernica’ from Picasso shows in the centre a screaming horse with a dismembered arm beneath. A wailing lady on the left holds a deceased child, all conveyed in a lightness that recreates the light of an explosion. This work is regarded as one of the most powerful anti-war artworks ever created. 

When casually looking one could be forgiven for glimpsing chaos, but that’s what war is. It is chaotic, but seeing it allows you to also see the fragility of human life. 

Today we still see cubism, it can be graffiti decorating a wall with surreal portraits of the human face, broken down in and emphasised in abstract shapes and geometric form, or it can be seen in architectural design and sculpture.

However you view cubism there is no denying that it has shaped so many wonderful artworks since those original pieces by Braque and Picasso, their influences remain but one thing is for sure whether you love it or hate it,  it was and remains a truly revolutionary style of modern art which we don’t often see in today’s art world.


When cubism first appeared it garnered very few fans. At the time people found it difficult to understand, and the term cubism was actually meant to be insulting, coming about directly as a result of the angular and often square look of the works. 

Get it or not, actually creating a worthy cubist artwork is pretty difficult. I have attempted a few times over the years and it really wasn't until late 2016 when I decided that I liked one piece enough to put aside and promised I would one day come back too. 

Recently I tried again with a new cubism piece but this time I tried something completely differently. I created it entirely using a digital medium and found it so much easier. 

How I created it was to actually start out with a work produced using my favourite art application on iPad, Procreate. 

Procreate will allow you to select areas and then flip them, then all that is needed is to blend those areas back in. It produces a quite stunning effect and is certainly easier than creating the work on a canvas off the bat. 

I'll be using the Procreate work as a reference piece to reproduce on canvas. It's a quick way to form the composition and get a feeling for how the work flows, and it's certainly much easier than sketching out everything on paper first. 

There is no denying that I have found my own cubist creations challenging and speaking to a few other artists, I'm not alone apparently. Getting cubism right is painstaking, but one of the other things I've noticed that I do and which seems to make it harder, is that I tend to overthink the work. 

Using the iPad to create something as a reference print so that I can play about with it before committing to canvas has helped me to concentrate on the image, before transitioning it into a work of cubism. So if you're struggling with creating a cubist piece, I would definitely recommend creating the image digitally to start with. 


I have been writing so often in the early hours lately and have produced a number of articles which will be appearing over the new few weeks, and I'm really excited about them, so I thought I would give you an early heads up on what you can expect over the coming weeks, right here on this site. 

The Art of the Book Cover - I have produced somewhere in the region of seventy different book covers over the years, and more recently I have been lucky enough to have received eight commissions this year alone. So this feature will give artists an insight into what they need to know to be able to add this 'sometimes' lucrative side business as an option to clients, and I will be giving a little advice to authors who are thinking about getting a professional design for their next book, and what you should look for before commissioning the work. 

The Decline of Cinema - this article will be taking a look at the cinema industry today and the problems local cinemas have been facing over the past decade. I promise that there will be some hard hitting home truths that both Hollywood and the cinema industry might want to take note of!

Non-Finito - I'm pretty sure most artists have abandoned work sitting around and I for one often wonder what I should do with the half completed works. So I decided to compile a guide to using and finishing off those part done (non-finito) works which you might just want to read. 

So which one of these articles would you like to read first? Please do leave a comment and let me know. Also if there is a subject you want me to cover, tell me! 


If you are an artist who sometimes faces creative block, I've got you covered! I will be putting forward some artistic challenges for you to have a go at over the coming months and if you want to have your efforts published on this site, you can! All you need to do is send me a photo of your work and I will pop it on this site together with links to all of your artist portfolio and sales websites and any links you want to include. Expect the pop up challenges to you know, pop up from time to time. 


My good friend and author Paul Dance has submitted a guest post which I will be publishing very soon, and you could also become a guest blogger too. If you have anything you want to say about the art world, there's no need to set up a complicated website, I'll be publishing guest posts on their own page on this site. 

You will be able to leave links to your own sites and promote yourself as a visual artist, and the very best will appear on the front page of this site too. Posts should be between 1500 and 2000 words, so if you want to tell the world you are here, please do get in touch through the contact form and I'll send you further details on how to publish your post. 


Mark A. Taylor (M.A) is a UK artist and blogger who supports the work of other local and independent artists. His work is sold all over the world and he has collectors in the USA, the UK, and even Israel. 

He has been commissioned to produce book covers, numerous landscapes and abstracts, and specialises in creating art props for use in TV and Film. He also advises on art for corporate spaces and is the founder of three large Facebook Group communities, The Artists Exchange, The Artist Hangout, and The Artist Directory. 

His work can be seen on this site by clicking on the M.As Fine Art Store page, or here on his Pixels artist site here

You can also view his work on Fine Art America here, or purchase it in more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada, including the Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, and Deck the Walls. You can also stream Mark’s work on ACanvas too!

Mark is also a member of the ABC/Disney Program via Fine Art America and licences some of his works for other uses too. If you are interested in licensing or purchasing Mark’s works, please use the contact form on this site or on his Pixels website.


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