Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Girl Before a Mirror

So here's Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror. It's almost too familiar.

In grammar school I was in a class for bright kids and they gave us various resources and tools and let us explore -- research -- stuff. We had an overhead projector and I used it to study two things by projecting their images, tracing and coloring. Those two things were Diatoms (the plankton) and Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror.

I had learned that there were a bunch of paintings called Cubist and they looked different, but all in the same way, a way I did not really understand. I picked Girl Before a Mirror to study because I really couldn't make out what it was a picture of. There was a woman's face looking out from the painting, but the rest seemed to be chaos. Tracing and coloring the image took me a couple of weeks, which is a long time for a kid. I projected the painting onto a big piece of butcher paper and traced it with a sharpie and colored it with crayons. The image slowly emerged and I began to be able to make out both of the images of the woman and even get the idea of the mirror image. That Sunday, a lot of grownups from our neighborhood were over watching sports on T. V. I was just sitting around, uninterested in the program, staring at the edge of the coffee table. Suddenly, I got it and said out loud, "Cubism shows you all the different faces of a thing all at once!" It wasn't the sort of crowd to think of such things, so my comment was ignored. But, that really didn't matter, did it?

While I was in New York recently, I stood in front of the actual painting remembering that moment. My thoughts came back up to the present with the unhappy realization that, now, in the new millennium, it is likely that many grade school children would not be allowed to study or even view this painting because it has breasts in it. This is the common horror felt by educated people of a certain age: What has happened to education!

Then something magic happened. A young woman approached me and asked me to photograph her with the painting Girl Before a Mirror. I took her picture and she thanked me. I loitered around the gallery, as one does. Then I saw two women approach Girl Before a Mirror and take each others' pictures with the painting, several times. Then again, another pair of women took each others' portraits with the painting. I stood and watched other pairs of women approach and take their pictures with Picasso's reflected Girl. Other solitary women approached and photographed it. Pairs of American, Japanese, Chinese, French, German women stood near the striped girl for their portrait, the third, prismatic image of woman, taking Picasso's reflection out into the further dimension of time. And moving that painting of a woman loving her own image past mere aesthetic appreciation or sexual objectification, and into the proud possession of these women of the twenty-first century.