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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials — Cubism

Different people can have different perspectives on the same thing. Cubism is a visual art movement that tried to realize this truism in art. Cubist art, which originated in the early 20th century, broke objects down into geometric planes, allowing artists to depict the same object from multiple different angles. This flew in the face of the dominant representational style of Western art, but its origins can be found in the later works of Paul Cézanne and traditional African art. Pablo Picasso and George Braque are some of its most famous practitioners. Let’s try to find a good angle to tackle Cubism.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Cubism.

LOUIS VAUXCELLES Louis Vauxcelles was not a Cubist but rather an influential art critic who coined the term Cubism. At a Paris exhibition of Georges Braque’s 1908 Cubist painting of a French fishing village, Houses at L’Estaque, Vauxcelles commented that everything was reduced “to geometric outlines, to cubes.”

GEORGES BRAQUE Alongside Picasso, Braque is perhaps the best-known Cubist. In addition to Houses at L’Estaque, some of Braque’s other works include 1910’s Violin and Candlestick and 1912’s Fruit Dish and Glass. While the former is a more traditional Cubist work, the latter is the first Cubist papier collé, or collage. Braque used collages for many of his later works and depicted certain objects again and again in his art, including a violin and a guitar.

PABLO PICASSO Picasso worked alongside Braque but has since come to overshadow him. In fact, Picasso’s 1907 oil painting of five prostitutes, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon has become virtually synonymous with Cubism. The composition of the five prostitutes references El. Greco’s Opening of the Fifth Seal. Picasso also used African masks as a starting reference for the facial features of some of the prostitutes. Picasso is also well known for his 1937 Cubist masterpiece, Guernica.

JUAN GRIS Juan Gris was another talented Spanish Cubist. He differed from Picasso and Braque in several ways, among them his extensive use of bright colors in contrast to their monochromatic approach. Gris was a proponent of Crystal Cubism, a style of Cubism that emphasized a more conservative, geometric approach to composition. Paintings were less about “deconstructing” objects into planes and more about building networks of flat, geometric shapes. Gris’ 1917 Harlequin with a Guitar is an exemplar of his style.

ANALYTIC AND SYNTHETIC CUBISM As we saw above, there are different tendencies within Cubism. Analytic Cubism refers to the earliest period of Cubism, spanning roughly 1908-1912. Analytic Cubism emphasized rigorous analysis of an object in order to depict it as faithfully as possible from many different angles. Synthetic Cubism came later and experimented with collages and texture. Whereas Analytic Cubism sought to reconstruct an object from disparate viewpoints, Synthetic Cubism simply sought to “flatten” the object.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

  • I was first introduced to Cubism through this extraordinary comic. If you haven’t read all of Calvin and Hobbes, go do so immediately. We’ll wait.

  • French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was an early proponent of Cubism. He invented a style of poem called a calligram that made him something of a visual artist himself!

  • Picasso’s fascination with traditional African art began early in his painting career. Learn more here!

  • If you have a few minutes, this tour of Cubist works at Scotland’s National Gallery of Modern Art is well worth it to see Cubist works beyond painting:


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