I Really Don't Like Picasso

Picasso's Guernica (1937)

Is it possible to say this in 2012, when Tate Britain is showing the largest ever Picasso show and is inundated with visitors?

Many people said that in the 1920s and '30s, and he suffered extraordinary criticism even later. But to say so now seems almost sacrilegious. We all stand in awe of the great painter, admire his virtuosity, his creativity, his sense of colour. Everything, really. Guernica. Need I say more? How can one not admire the painter of Guernica? What nincompoop would come out the woods to say so?

Me. I really don’t like Picasso.

I just had the privilege of seeing the show at the Tate (all nine rooms of it) in the wonderful privacy of an arts fund evening. Hardly a soul there when I went, though 200 were expected later. And yet, in my gut, I just doesn’t like the guy. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Why? I think I don’t like his attitude toward women; something makes me feel revolted when I see his pictures of women, their distorted faces, bodies glaring at us. To illustrate how awful the times were in the '40s, how ugly and disjointed, he used the bodies of women. He distorted them, bent them this way and that, eyes stared, popped out of sockets, breasts heaved, bulged, threatening to engulf. Why is there not a single beautiful woman in the exhibition?

As surely that also was a reality in the '40s, beautiful women tried their best to make those awful times bearable. But Picasso used women in his private life, and he also did in his art and it makes my stomach turn. Yes, he could paint, of course he could. Yes, he was an innovator, scandalously so, and created outcries wherever he went. But maybe his critics had a point: maybe this brutal art brutalised us and his ardent followers continued the process, enough so that we now don’t find anything off-putting or scandalous. Bacon’s Pope, no worries; Hirst’s skull, how wonderful. Excellent painters like Edward Burra, who eloquently depicted the brutalised world through his landscapes, hardly gets noticed, a recent exhibition in Chichesters Gallant Gallery being a rare exception. Maybe we should take a closer look at the Emperor’s clothes...

Isn’t one of the duties of art to make life more beautiful, to make it more bearable? In classical times, the artist was told to look for the delightful and the necessary. Picasso only partially did that; he pleases our intellectual snobbery, and shocks with the new that we are so proud to untangle. But there is no comfort at all in any of his work. So what good does it actually do?