There is much fine writing and intellectual vigour available on the web. One such piece is Jonathan Jones' very fine ntroduction to the new "Cubism and Its Legacy" exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London.
The show celebrates the canvasses painted by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907 and the First World War.
"The paintings are brown and grey, with spaces of white canvas turned cream with time ... their difficulty is not of a type that recedes with familiarity. Cubism is like a maths exam at the gateway to modern art. The paintings are uniquely unyielding."Jones states the problem clearly:
"Paradoxically, cubism is difficult not because it is abstract but because it is descriptive. If it were abstract, we could let go, relax, be moved. But Picasso and Braque were not abstract painters, and cubism claims not to be beautiful, but true ...Jones reminds us of Arthur I. Miller's recent book which revealed just how closely Picasso mimiced the deepest science of the day.
Most modern painting is stylish. It uses geometrical forms rhetorically. In revolutionary Russia, black squares and suprematist constellations of bars and pyramids became a shorthand for a new society. In Mussolini's Italy, futurist images of bodies hurtling through space became icons of militarism. Today, such modern geometries are as likely to be found on an album cover as in an art gallery. Cubism was never a style in that sense. It was an inquiry."
"Picasso learned about [Henri Poincare's relativism] through the mathematician Maurice Princet, who was a regular at Montmartre cafe tables. Picasso's friend André Salmon wrote that Princet "preoccupies himself especially with painters who disdain ancient perspective. He praises them for no longer trusting the illusory optics of not long ago... " Mathematicians, philosophers and physicists at the beginning of the 20th century were recognising that many absolute truths were convenient caricatures of a universe that might be far stranger, far further from common sense than anyone thought."From this, the two painters developed their artistic creativity:
"Picasso's first essay in the new painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), associates the death of the picture with sexual aggression and "primitive" release. It is an overturning of civilised lies, one of which is the neat illusion of perspective. Braque put his anger into words. "The whole Renaissance tradition is antipathetic to me," he said. "The hard-and-fast rules of perspective, which it succeeded in imposing on art, were a ghastly mistake... "Of course, we still haven't reached the point in our development where such strangeness can be accommodated repeatedly. As noted above, most modern art -- through abstract expressionism and super-realism and all the other isms -- reverted to the search for a style, leaving Cubism as an original and unique expression of a special kind of reality.