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Where the Mind is Without Fear

The extremely famous lines from the translation of Tagore’s poem Where The Mind is Without Fear was used by noted author and poet Vikram Seth in his inaugural speech at Kalam, or Kolkata Literary Meet at the Kolkata Book Fair 2012. The speech in its entirety is remarkably reported by noted Bangla-English translator and a co-speaker at the meet, Arunava Sinha. here.  This line entered one of the animated and erudite discussions that followed on Jan 29, 2012 and was called ‘hackneyed’. Referring back to my post ‘Cliches’, the reader will probably understand why I do not subscribe to this view. But that is a different story all together.

I called in sick today and stayed home from office. Sick, I am, in mind and body. I have been lying couped up in my room with a quilt over me, and spent the morning devotedly engrossed in a book on Pablo Picasso, belonging to a series called First Impressions by John Beardsley. It is a delightful read for a beginner’s take on the greats on art, lush with prints of the artist’s work. It manages to encapsulate the extreme polarities, bewildering lifescape, controversial personal affairs, themes and periods in the life of the father of modern art in a way that’s graspable for a novice like me.

I’ll take you straight to why am writing this at all. And why I have chosen the ‘hackneyed’ title to this post. And I will allow myself the privilege to quote at length from the book itself.

The following describes Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’ Avignon, a shocking painting belonging to 1907. At this time, Picasso was painting serene, classical forms and had not broken upon Cubism, a style that he invented with artist friend Braque that was going to change the way the world looked at art, forever. The aforementioned painting can be considered a precedent to what lay ahead. This was as different as it could be from the accepted, pleasing ‘classical’ period that Picasso was in then. So much so, that even his closest friends, admirers and followers found it too much to take.

Below, is how John Beardsley describes the painting, (I quote in bits and pieces and not in continuous)

Extract one – description

In the subject matter, the painting recalls many previous works in European painting. Groups of nude female bathers were often portrayed enjoying themselves in Turkish baths or beside the water out-of-doors…… Preparatory drawings suggest that Picasso originally intended this painting as traditional allegory or representation of moral conflict….. the extraordinary thing about it is the radically untraditional way in which the women are painted….the figures are flatter than those Picasso had just been painting in his first classical period……These women are all angles. Their faces look like masks and are full of distortions: noses are seen in profile, although the faces are presented from the front, although the rest of the face is in profile. The two figures in the right are more startling. The faces are severely elongated, they have tiny mouths and long, flattened ridges that suggest their noses. …”


Les Demoiselles D’ Avignon

Extract two: Immediate Reaction

Matisse thought it was a hoax, intended to ridicule modern art. Braque said, “It is as though we are supposed to exchange our usual diet for one of tow and paraffin.”Even Apollinaire…..champion of Picasso’s work, was taken aback.”


Picasso was, however scantly influenced by the sharp criticism he faced, for Les Demoiselles D’ Avignon, a work that went on to be one of the most celebrated from the artist. The immediate reaction from Picasso was to find a middle path. He followed with the painting Three Women, where he preserved his angular portrayal of nude women, but here the women were serene, and less horrifying.

Three Women

What would have happened if Picasso had stopped with his compromise? The author tells us that Les Demoiselles D’ Avignon lay forgotten in his studio for a great number of years, articulately rejected by the French Art community and uncomfortably laid aside by the artist himself. Am sure the modern artists of today will shudder to think of the consequences, of Picasso giving up on the style altogether. For Les Demoiselles D’ Avignon proved to be the precedent to, Cubism,  Picasso’s greatest gift to modern art.

The Reservoir at Horta De Ebro, 1909 is one of Picasso's first experiments with Cubism

How often have you, dear reader, given up to pressure? How often have you stifled the voice of the Heart and Passion to the maddening Chorus of Popular Choice?

Every day, every little compromise, we let ourselves be subject to. Every little false hope, we make ourselves understand, we are losing ourselves. And maybe the world is losing something of great value.

This is a very difficult thing. It is not enough to leave you with a pep-talk post here and expect you to suddenly shrug off all your emotional responsibilities towards everyone to discover Yourself.

Am just telling you to not forget your responsibility towards yourself. However loud the Chorus is.

Yours Joblessly,  The Jobless Ideator

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