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Art Movements in Art History - Analytical and Synthetic Cubism

Art Movements > Cubism > Analytical and Synthetic Cubism

Analytical and Synthetic Cubism*

The change that occurred in Cubist painting in 1912 makes it necessary to distinguish
between two phases. The terms analytic and synthetic are generally used to describe these
stages. Neither word by itself, however, provides an adequate or accurate description. The
meaning of synthetic, as defined in the Concise Oxford dictionary, is "combinatior,
composition, putting together, opposite of analysis; building up of separate elements
especially of conception or propositions or facts, into a connected whole". This building-up
process is different to, and theoretically the opposite of, the breaking-down process of the
analytic, earlier phase. Yet these phases in Cubism are not consciously separate, and are not
so exclusive as such a definition might imply. Synthetic elements are found during the
analytic phase and vice versa. To add to the confusion, many earlier writers do not use the
words consistently, nor in the general sense in which we apply them today.

It is in the writings of Gris that the differences between an analytical and synthetic
approach were elaborated. Briefly, Gris differentiated between an early
phase of Cubism which he felt to be purely descriptive and empirical and a later more
conceptual phase, achieved through working from the general to the particular. The
transition to the synthetic phase was determined by papier-colle and collages since it
created the possibility of working from the abstract to the particular, as demonstrated for
example in the Table du Musicien by Braque, in which pin and
tack marks remain in the corners of the shapes that form the basic composition. This
suggests that Braque first laid out the composition with pieces of rectangular paper which he
pinned to the canvas. These were rearranged and, by overdrawing, given a contextual
meaning. The surface no longer functioned as a plane for illusionist devices; it was now the
furthest point from the spectator not the nearest. The plane was accepted as solid and

During 1913 the work of both Picasso and Braque shows the influence of collage, and
the change to synthetic type structure is apparent. Forms are generally larger, bolder and
simpler in outline. Overdrawing, details, letters and some shading convert the simple shapes
into images. It is a process which would seem to reflect some aspects of synthetic
procedures as defined by Gris.

From 1914 further elaborations occur. Importantly Cubism has changed the nature of
painting and freed it from the older notions of structure and spatial planning. The artwork
exists now in its own right. In 1914 Braque went to war. When he returned in 1918 he
continued to work in much the same way. He was not influenced by the later work of
Picasso. Work dating from 1915, and the further development of Cubism, should be assessed
in the work of Picasso and Gris.


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* Drawn from notes compiled by R. Becker for the University of South Africa | Contact Us | List Your Art | List Your Art Gallery | Site Map

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