We still do not know how to clearly distinguish the two poles that magnetize painting: their effects often interfere. While clearly obvious are the differences between the art of Picasso and of Matisse, this polarity supports the evident of only a single kind of painting in the twentieth century. These remarks by Roger de Piles, for example, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, suffice in situating with enough certitude the classical tradition, that of the rhetoric of passions the painter disposes: There are in the passions two manners of movement; the first are lively and violent, others are calm and moderate. Quintilian calls the first pathetic, and the other moral. The pathetic commands, the moral persuades; the first bears up under any trouble and powerfully stirs the heart, the other insinuates calm into the mind, and both require a good deal of art to be well expressed.14 But despite this classic polarity of violent commandment and subtle persuasion, which appears throughout art of the twentieth century, these two contradictory components often mix in a single work that the art of today has recapitulated by hurling us between the two poles, between Matisse and Picasso, that is to say between acceptance and expulsion, between the Redemption and the Fall, in a sort of impossible double bind. As it was understood, the “great narrative” of the West, into which I would suggest Picasso inserted himself in a singular way because it was contradictory, this great narrative was in fact Christianity itself. And his rivalry with Matisse, who said to him one day: “You are like me: what we both search for in art is the climate of our first communion,”15 this rivalry also served as his own explanation of Christianity and his theology on salvation through the image. Matisse still wanted to believe that the lie in art revealed the truth of myth—that is, more or less, Christianity. Picasso thought on the contrary that the lie of art could give access to that truth of myth as a lie. But to exorcize the lie of Salvation, the myth of the Fall must be conserved.
more from Eric Michaud at Nonsite here.