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Formalizing an interconnected syntax for Picasso’s creative process in producing Guernica

Steve DiPaola & Allison Smith (SFU)

Saturday, May 19th
Buchanan A201

Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica and his creative process that gave fruition to it, has been the subject of major debate on how the creative mind works by many art historians (Arnhiem, Tankard) and more recently cognitive scientists (Simonton, Gabora). One reason Guernica has become the rubric for discussing the ‘creative process’ is Picasso, in untypical fashion, deeply documented his short, motivated and unrelenting creative process from the day he heard about the Guernica bombing to the final large canvas with approximately seventy dated images in forty five days, leaving us with significant data to pontificate the understanding the creative mind. However, the family of Guernica sketches are not easily diagnosed, containing many themes, experimental deviations, historical references, epochs of different creative directions and much more. Many researchers have underestimated the complexity involved in Picasso’s creative tour de force. Our research creates a multi-dimensional syntax of the work, from all its intertwined thematic, milestone, experimental and creative levels with the goal of creating an interactive system that allows lay viewers and experts alike to explore the complex archive of evidence.

that allows lay viewers and experts alike to explore the complex archive of evidence. Picasso’s creative process can be explored both internally, by focusing exclusively on the Guernica studies (Arnheim), and within a broader scope that analyzes the sketches’ relation to a broader collection of various artworks and themes (Russell, Chipp). The creative process when viewed internally, presented creative epochs that marked breakthroughs in the Guernica studies. For Picasso, an object’s form is typically a part of the artwork’s message, and that form might need to be experimentally manipulated in many deviations. The experimentation of form may have helped Picasso to research which symbolic variations best convey inter-related sentiments of despair, anguish and strength. Even in this abstracted work, realistic or picturesque versions of his major themed bull, women and anguished heads were drawn to help Picasso see a character in its “normal” state (fig. 1). In order to create disturbing visuals of a contorted war scene, Picasso wanted to study the natural state of a character in order to know how to distort it (fig. 2).

His creative process has systolic and diastolic stages, the former demonstrating abstract or minimal shapes and the latter exerting excessive detail. The systolic stages can be beneficial in studying the bare structure of a character or composition in a quick and physically easy manner. The diastolic states helped Picasso achieve all the details, so he could start exploring which details to dispose in the final painting. Picasso’s process appears to have more in common with syntactic exploration of a narrative or linguistic intertwined related set of themes, similar to historical deviations of a word rather than a creative depiction of a tragic event.

Our methodological process has involved parsing the various time stamped images both internally and in relation to other artwork, symbolic and mythological themes (Granell), and art critical and historical resources to produce a networked quantitative language based framework in the form of a syntactic database which is then controlled and visualized via an interactive user interface.

(See the attached PDF for figures and references)

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