Art as a defensive weapon? It seems strange, but Pablo Picasso demonstrated its power in his painting Guernica. I’ve brought Jennifer Easterling back onto the show for another art conversation, and this time we discuss Picasso’s Guernica. Both of us had strong gut reactions to it, so in this episode, we talk about what it’s taught us and its importance in history.
1:47 – Jenn recalls her reaction when she first laid eyes on Picasso’s Guernica
6:02 – I discuss my unexpected emotional experience seeing it in person
9:10 – Painting a picture of what this Picasso artwork looks like
14:20 – The diabolical history behind why Picasso created this painting
18:21 – Why we had such a strong reaction to seeing Guernica in person
21:48 – How the pandemic impacted Jenn’s connection with the artwork
25:18 – Legacy of the Jewish woman who secretly taught art to children in a concentration camp
33:06 – What I kept seeing in my mind when I went to view the painting
37:26 – Picasso’s ultimatum and Guernica’s lengthy journey from Paris to Spain
42:22 – Picasso’s view on symbolism in art
44:51 – Discussing the symbolism we see in his painting
48:08 – A difference I noticed in his drawings versus the final painting
54:08 – Picasso’s experimentation with the drawings
56:40 – How our husbands reacted to Guernica
- Beyond the Surface: Free Email Course
- Art Connection Manifesto
- Pablo Picasso (Pablo Ruiz Picasso) – Guernica
- Guernica Introduction – Picasso quotes
- Picasso Comic – Zen Pencils
- “Art, Horror, and The Sublime: Pablo Picasso’s Guernica” lesson
- Friedl Dicker-Brandeis
- Children’s Art from Theresienstadt – Terezin Memorial Ghetto Museum
Helga Weissova, Draw What You See
Be a Podcast Guest: Submit a Voice Memo of Your Art Story (Scroll to the bottom of the page to submit your story.)
Cindy Ingram: Hello and welcome to The Art Class Curator Podcast. I am Cindy Ingram, your host and the founder of Art Class Curator, and The Curated Connections Library. We’re here to talk about teaching art with purpose and inspiration from the daily delights of creativity to the messy mishaps that come with being a teacher. Whether you’re driving home from school or cleaning up your classroom for the 15th time today, take a second, take a deep breath, relax those shoulders, and let’s get started.
Welcome back to The Art Class Curator Podcast, this is Cindy Ingram. Today, I have again with me, Jennifer Easterling. Hi Jenn.
Jennifer Easterling: Hi, glad to be here.
Cindy Ingram: This is your fourth time on the podcast. Eventually, I’m going to have to stop keeping count for every single episode because you’re becoming a fixture of the podcast. Then for those of you who haven’t met Jenn yet on the podcast, if this is your first time to listen, Jenn works for Art Class Curator as our education manager. She creates most of the resources for our membership, the Curated Connections Library. She’s a brilliant teacher and brilliant creative mind. There you go.
Today, we’re going to do another art conversation. In the past, we did one on Shirin Neshat’s Rebellious Silence. Today, we’re going to talk about Pablo Picasso’s Guernica because both of us had really strong, powerful reactions to it that I feel like we could have a really interesting conversation about this work, what it taught us, and its importance in history as well. Why don’t you tell us about your experience seeing it?
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah, sure. I took a group of students to Spain in March of 2020. We happened to be there right before everything shut down and as everything was shutting down. It had been a lifelong dream to go see this painting. Whenever I found out that we were going to be in the same city, I made a point to go over there. I actually took another student and teacher with me, and we ditched the group for a little while to make sure we went and saw this painting. It’s funny because we looked all over the museum for it. Here we are, traipsing across Madrid, trying to find the museum in the middle of Europe at night with weird stuff going on around the world. That weird turmoil in the background, that you’re not really sure what all is going on. Now, we all know what was going on and why, and everything else, looking back almost a year and a half later, but I just felt this need that I had to go see it. We finally get to the museum, then we can’t find the painting. It’s really funny. We just go on this whole adventure trying to find this massive, massive painting and for whatever reason, we can’t find it.
Cindy Ingram: I had the exact same experience. I couldn’t find it either.
Jennifer Easterling: It’s so hilarious, I mean you think we would be front and center right there but no, we had to wind our way. Anyway, we got to see some other cool stuff that we would have missed in there otherwise. But anyway, we come around the corner and of course, it is huge, the whole vibe in the museum, then that room just changed. It’s one of those things that you really can’t explain. It was just a whole vibe change that you feel. There were quite a few people in there, like you could still get up and see it, kind of have your one-on-one experience with it, like the Mona Lisa where there’s people everywhere and you have to find them. You didn’t have to do that but there were quite a few people there.
There were several museum guards in there and they were very adamant that you were not very loud. I kept finding that odd, that they kept shushing everybody. You could have a quiet conversation but if it got too loud, they were shushing everybody and really adamant you didn’t take pictures. Maybe that added to the whole vibe of it but it was very overwhelming, that sense of, “Oh, here it is, wow.” It is huge. I’d always heard that it was a large painting but I didn’t realize just how big it was. I guess I have those emotional reactions the same time I had, like the first real work of art that I saw and recognized was Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera. They were huge side by side on these walls and just, “Whoa.” It was that same reaction of, “Oh, this is huge.” You don’t realize it until you’re face to face with it. Man, you got to see all the details. The pictures online just don’t do it justice because there’s so much more depth in it than what you see in a photograph. Even though it is black and white, and all the different values, again, it’s hard to explain until you are seeing something in person versus a small picture online.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. I looked up the dimensions while you were talking, so I can get them exactly right. But the painting is 11 foot, 6 inches by 25 feet, 6 inches.
Jennifer Easterling: The only thing in this room.
Cindy Ingram: Massive. When I saw it, there were other things. The sketches leading up to it, the sketches that he did in advance, which were actually devastating. I’ll talk about my experience a little bit too.
Jennifer Easterling: I’ve got to see those when they come to Houston. I thought Guernica was actually in Houston. I was so excited I was going to go see it. I dragged my husband. I was very, very pregnant and didn’t care. I was going to go see it and it wasn’t there. It was just the sketches and everything leaned up. I was like, “Oh, this is cool but where’s the painting?” Then I found out, it doesn’t leave Spain anymore. I was like, “Oh okay, I guess I have to go to Spain.” Well, I finally did.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, it was always a bucket list item for me too. I went to see it in 2017. In spring break, my husband and I went to Italy. It was the first time my husband went overseas, which was really exciting for me to take him. He was less excited. He’s not as much of a traveler. Anyway, we found these super cheap tickets to Italy. It was a round trip. It was a $400 round trip. We were really excited but the caveat was on the way there. We had a layover in Madrid for 24 hours. I was like, “Well, this is a perfect scenario for me.” because the very top of my bucket list was to see Guernica. We had just flown across the sea, we arrived in Madrid early in the morning. Then our flight was out early morning the next day. We were so tired from being jet lagged. We went straight from the airport to the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid. I don’t know where our bags were. We must have dropped them off somewhere. It doesn’t matter. I’m just like, “What happened to the bags?”
The goal that day was to go to see Guernica first because I knew I needed to be fresh for that, then I wanted to go to the Prado too because the Prado obviously, you have to go there. But we went to see Guernica. I had the same experience. I couldn’t find the painting or just like I kept going to guards going Guernica and pointing, and they would just point me the way. I entered that space. I was expecting it to be emotional. I am prone to emotional experiences in front of paintings. That happens to me. I was expecting that, but I was expecting it more to be the feeling of, “Wow, I can’t believe I get to see this, how cool it is in person and how big it is.” I was expecting all of that but what I did not expect was to be totally devastated by it.
I’m tearing up, just saying that right now because it wasn’t this, “Ah, this beautiful work of art.” It was this, “Wow, this beautiful work of art but look at the death, the devastation, the pain, the horror, and the terror.” The pain of the painting, then all of the sketches around it, I could not even function. It was so painful. I almost couldn’t look at it. I kept having to go and look away, which is really weird because usually, when I’m having a connection with the painting, I can’t look away but this one, I had to look away. It was devastating of a painting. I can tell you, once we get into the conversation, what exactly I was making a lot of connections with. But let’s talk about the painting. Let’s just describe it for people who are listening, who might not have seen it. I’m sure, if you’re an art teacher, you’ve seen this painting 100% but we might have some people who have not. Let’s describe it. Do you want to start?
Jennifer Easterling: Sure. What we have is like you said, a very large black and white painting. It’s not realistic. It’s kind of what Picasso is known for is abstracting figures. He has added these figures and animals that are in such pain, and devastation. The more you look at them, you see just pain. You just see the pain, the anxiety, the worry, the fear, all of it on each figure. The way he has posed each figure, you feel for a minute, and I find myself putting myself in those figures, kind of persona. I can identify with this figure, then I move over to the next one and I’m like, “Oh, I can identify with that one.” Just going from figure to figure, putting myself in the shoes of each one. I mean six human type figures, one of those looks to be like a baby who’s died and the mother is holding it, just wailing in pain. You’ve got someone else who looks like being stepped on by a horse. That horse also looks like they’re in pain. Actually, I just saw it now, it looks like he might be being stabbed. I’ve never seen that before.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. He has a stab on his side, then he has a spear or something coming through his top. But there’s something coming out of his mouth too but I always wonder if that’s the tongue or if that’s like another spiky thing.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. But in the way he’s posed, he looks like he’s stepping on what could be this dead body of a figure.
Cindy Ingram: That figure is decapitated. The arm’s chopped off. There is no body. It’s just two arms and a head.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah, just the limbs. It’s gripping a broken sword down there at the bottom. Then you have another, looks like a woman rushing in seeing all this. She looks almost bewildered, then right above her, you have this, I keep thinking of a ghost-like figure but it’s not because then, you see the arm reaching through this window, holding the candle, you see the worried expression on their face.
Cindy Ingram: The woman at the bottom, the one that you were talking about who looked bewildered, her leg is swollen. It almost feels to me like it’s trapped. It’s getting swollen. She’s trying to get out but that’s always how I’m reading it. It’s like her leg is super heavy. It’s trapped under something.
Jennifer Easterling: She’s injured. Then if you look back at the shapes and you see this triangle shape that melds into her legs. As soon as you see it, it looks like it’s trapped. I started seeing that. That just changed my whole perspective on it.
Cindy Ingram: Then we have one person who was like I envisioned them in a trash can of flames. They’re in something with flames coming out of it.
Jennifer Easterling: You see their arms reaching up for help or they want to get out or something, then right above it is a house that could be on fire or something with the idea of flames.
Cindy Ingram: We have the horse. We also have a bull. The bull doesn’t have as much painful things happening to it. It just seems to be in shock. Then there’s a bird as well coming in the background.
Jennifer Easterling: The bird is hard to see. I don’t think I ever really saw it until I zoomed in or was sitting there in person, I was like, “Oh.” Because it’s done in a dark gray background with black lines, so it really fades in the back. That’s where I went to zoom in. If you are near a computer, you can go to the Reina Sofía’s website and go to Guernica, and be able to zoom in a lot closer than some other images and see more details. But there’s stuff that I hadn’t seen before until I was able to stand in front of it or zoom in and really see the different details that pop out.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. I’m going to mention a few other things that are here. The head and arm that are coming through the doorway that looks like a ghost, she/he, they are holding a candle, then there’s also this incandescent light bulb at the top that is lit but also, it has this eyeball shape around it as well. Then there’s the man holding the broken sword. There’s a flower coming out of his hand as well, like just a line drawing of a flower. I think those are the main things. This painting was created in 1939 from the World’s Fair. Picasso was supposed to do a painting for the World’s Fair for the Spanish Pavilion. The theme of the World’s Fair was technology or something like that. New technology, the impact of technology in society.
Jennifer Easterling: Celebrating modern technology.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, all of that. But then this event happened where Hitler bombed this town of Guernica and basically destroyed it. It was this senseless act. It didn’t make any sense why he would be bombing it. It was part of the Spanish Civil War.
Jennifer Easterling: It was bombing practice for Hitler’s new war machine that he had made. It was the first time that a town and civilians had been bombed like that, and had this aerial blanket bombing, especially over a civilian population. Nothing like this had ever happened before. But basically, Franco, who had been in charge, just picked a town and was like, “You can take that one.” Hitler came in and just bombed it just for practice. It just caught everybody off guard and destroyed the town, 1600 people were killed or wounded and the whole city burned for three days. He had the blanket bombers come over and bomb it, then these aerial fighters just came in and started shooting down any civilians that were running. Just absolute terror and just a senseless act of death. It just knots in my stomach every time I read about it.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. You were talking, my whole body covered in chills like, “Oh.”
Jennifer Easterling: I know, same, same.
Cindy Ingram: It’s funny because Picasso was not a political painter, all of his paintings. This is late in his career. He had been a painter for decades by this point. Everything is women and children, still life, a lot of paintings of women, household scenes, abstraction. His paintings were more about the painting style, the form, and seeing that develop rather than these big political messages but it was a breaking point for him. He realized he couldn’t stay silent. He realized he couldn’t just paint something about technology when this horrible thing had just happened in his homeland. He painted Guernica in response to that event and put that up in the Spanish Exposition instead of what he had been commissioned to do.
Jennifer Easterling: Something interesting too, the World expo, or whatever, was in Paris. Spain had its pavilion. They displayed art and all that stuff, and here’s Guernica that comes in this huge political message. It was also not too far from Germany’s Pavilion. Albert Speer, who was Hitler’s architect. had done something big in response. This is a monolith to Nazi Germany.
Cindy Ingram: Oh.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. I know when I read that, I was like, “Oh my goodness.”
Cindy Ingram: I didn’t know about that.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. I didn’t either until I read that. I was like, “Wow.” What a push and pull, and irony and all that. What a message sitting right there in front of him.
Cindy Ingram: At the beginning, I just looked this up too, I said 1939 earlier, I was wrong. It was 1937. This was July 1937. World War II officially began September 1st, 1939. It was two years before the official beginning of World War II.
Jennifer Easterling: The Spanish Civil War was still going on but Franco and Hitler had partnered up. It was funny because I was reading about the reactions. Russia, who was normally in favor of the Republican against the Spanish Republic and against Franco, and his regime, had such a strong negative reaction. Everybody had negative reactions to this painting like, “What are you doing?” Like, “This is not how you’re supposed to paint. You’re supposed to paint really realistic things,” or whatever. It’s interesting to see how all of his pain and emotions transformed into this. I feel like this, even though it is an abstraction, I have more gut-wrenching feelings toward this than other realistic paintings. Like The Third of May 1808 where it’s much more realistic and Goya has painted the firing squad, and all that. But I have more of a gut reaction, sharp angles and the weird pain. Because you think about pain, if you’ve ever truly been in pain, anguish, whatever, it’s not pretty. Those ugly cries and just the horrors of war. I see that and I feel that in this painting where I don’t so much in other ones. I thought that was really interesting, that even though people were against what was happening, they were still against the painting. It was the message that it was bringing out.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. I think it’s true for me. I tend to respond more to abstract art than to realistic art, just in general. But this one in particular, when you look at a reproduction of it, you do see the pain, you see everything in it. But seeing it in person, I noticed for the first time the connection to the artist. I could feel him moving in front of the painting. I could feel him painting. I could see there were drips of paint. There were translucent areas where you could see what he had tried before underneath it. It was thick in some places and thin in the others. You could see the slashing of his movements. You could feel his energy in that room. You could feel his anger. It was just so palpable, the air in front of it. I’m wondering if that’s why the guards made you be quiet because it was sacred. It was like a holy place, just that room. It was bigger than the painting. The painting was so big but it extended beyond the surface.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah, it really does. You don’t get that in just a photograph.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. I have it on my monitor as big as I can get it.
Jennifer Easterling: Same.
Cindy Ingram: It’s not big enough.
Jennifer Easterling: I know. I keep trying to zoom into different places and it doesn’t do it justice.
Cindy Ingram: I wanted to take zoomed in shots while I was there but they wouldn’t let me take pictures.
Jennifer Easterling: I know, same. I’ve been disappointed at that, I’m like, “Oh, I gotta take a picture.”
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. We have this painting and we both have these strong connections to it. One of the things we often talk about at Art Class Curator is the personal connection that you get with the work of art. That it’s not just about history. It’s not just about the artist. It’s not just about what’s in the painting. It’s about what it reminds you of in your own life and what you can learn from it. You said you were seeing this at the very beginning of the pandemic. How did that experience impact your experience of this artwork?
Jennifer Easterling: Whenever I saw it, it had to have been March 10th I believe, everything shifted and changed. We got the message as everything was shutting down, that President Trump at the time had made the announcement that they were closing the borders. We had to be home or everybody had to be back in the United States by midnight. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to get back in on March 13th. I saw it right as all that was happening. I kept seeing pandemic stuff, so I knew the story behind it. I researched it before. I knew what the painting was actually created in response to initially. But whenever I was looking at it, I couldn’t help but put all this idea of like pandemic stuff in there. Now, especially after the fact and all that went on in the world, I keep seeing that. Especially like the mother holding her dead baby. I have two girls of my own and they were younger at the time. When I’m standing there in front of it, I keep going back to that. I was like, “If something were to happen to my babies, that would be me.” That’s where my eye just kept going. I kept trying to look at everything else and it just kept going there, and having these gut-wrenching, my heart being ripped out of my chest of like, “Oh, if something were to happen, there I am.”
We saw it there, then like I said, we got this crazy call and we had these huge panics, and here I am in Spain with all these students thinking how we’re supposed to get back safely. Just the panic, the worry, and the stress, I’m like, “Oh, I see all that. Oh my goodness.” I have all these other connections to it but also, one thing that I noticed is everyone was panicking, people back home and people there, “What’s going to happen in the next 24-48 hours? Are we going to get stuck? Can we make flights? Are we going to get sick and die? Are we going to bring all this illness back with us?” All that just kept compounding. While we were in the midst of that panic and just waiting to find out what was going to happen, a couple of my parents who were on the trip, they took the kids aside and they set up these makeshift, just like many art camps and brought out all these art supplies that they’d bought, and used that to help calm the fears of the students. I wanted to participate because I needed it so bad but I was trying to take care of everything else but I appreciated that. I kept going back to this idea of like how many times do we turn to art in times of adversity? Painting in reaction to something or using it as a way to express our fears and our emotions, and calm our mind. I just thought, “Wow, how powerful is this.” Even though I’m looking at this painting in reaction to war or to a bombing, here, we’ve got kids being centered by art. That’s where we kept going back to and I thought, “Oh my goodness, how powerful is that to cross so many generations, cultures, and experiences but we keep going back to creating art?”
In November of 2019, I attended a workshop at the Texas state Art Education conference. The presenter there shared her pretty much career-long research on artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Friedl was an up-and-coming artist from the Bauhaus when she was sent to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp during World War II. The amazing thing about her is that instead of taking food, valuables or money, she filled one of her suitcases with art supplies or I guess her one suitcase because they were only allowed one. She was able to sneak those into the camp. In secret, she taught art to the students or to children who were in the concentration camp or work camp. She used that to help keep them calm or keep them occupied, so they weren’t so focused on all the terrible things that were going around. I thought, “What a brave, powerful statement.” This one woman used her talents and what she had to give hope to the children stuck in this horrible situation. She helped them express their emotions and fears through art. I just thought it was really cool how she turned to art in times of great adversity.
I actually got to go to Theresienstadt several years ago whenever I was in the Czech Republic. We heard about her. It didn’t quite make the full connection at the time but there was a museum of children’s art there in the town. If you don’t know anything about this concentration camp, it was actually set up as this ideal town that they basically talked to Jews. It was going to be this arts cultural center, this model city for everything that the Nazis were doing. “Give up everything you have and come to this wonderful cultural place that has all the best musicians and artists.”
Cindy Ingram: Did you see those pictures from Nazi Germany of kids playing soccer at the concentration camps or people dancing and having a good time? It was all just public relations. They were trying to convince the Jews that, “Oh, we’re not doing anything wrong here. Look how happy everyone is.”
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah, exactly. That’s what this settlement village town, whatever you want to call it was, but it was all fake. Just right down the road was an actual concentration camp but it was like the model one. Anytime someone would come into this place or whoever would come in, they made sure that the Nazis were doing all that they said they’re doing. They would go to this one place and they’d be like, “Oh see, how wonderful it is. There’s a swimming pool, trees, theater, and all this stuff.” But it was all lies. It’s all propaganda and everything. You can drive through the town that’s still there, then you can walk through the concentration camp. But in the town, there is a children’s museum of art that children created while they were there. One little lady, she was a child, whenever she was in the camp, she was drawing and documenting—not on purpose documenting but she was just drawing everything that she saw as the time passed—she somehow was able to hide all of her drawings and you see the progression of the health of the people that were put in that camp. You see the health go down and deteriorate. You see the guards doing different things and all that.
She’s just drawing, just drawing, drawing, drawing. Somehow, she was able to hide all of her drawings through the course of being at this camp. She survived and she took the drawings with her. Long after she took all these drawings, she actually hid them under her mattress in her bedroom and would never show anybody because she was too scared that something would happen to her if anybody saw them, I guess that the Nazis would still come back, just those fears. Finally, her children, grandchildren were able to convince her to bring them out and show people. They published them in a book. I bought the book. It’s incredible to see all the atrocities that were happening through a child’s eyes. They’re just these honest drawings, yet she was still turning to art with whatever she had. She’s kept that art in times of adversity. She kept going back to that. I find that very powerful. That people, no matter what’s going on, still find a way to create and take all these emotions that they’re feeling, everything they’re experiencing and put it on paper, on canvas. Something like that.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. You think about it through all of time. There was art before there was language. There was art before there was written language. There was art before any of it because we just have this human desire to create. I think about Picasso at that moment. He’s super problematic. I have mixed feelings about him now, especially with the womanizing and all of the wrong things with Picasso. There’s so many things wrong with Picasso. I always have this intellectual/moral/thing happen anytime I talk about his work because to me, I don’t ever really fully focus on who made the artwork that I’m responding to. I never, when I’m looking at a work of art, wonder or think about who this artist was as a person. That’s not something that I’m particularly interested in. I know a lot of people are but that’s just not something that I particularly am that interested in because I do believe that art is the thing that I love. The actual thing. It’s so tricky. I’m sure that there could be someone listening to this episode who’s like, “But Picasso.” I know Picasso. I know I should probably cancel Picasso but it’s also like his work is so powerful to me. I’ve had such powerful moments with it that it’s just this really sticky place.
Anyway, all that aside, I do, in this case, like to think about what he was going through and that desire that he had in that moment. Did it come from a place of wanting to express his feelings or did it come from a place of wanting to make sure the world knew about that? Like not to sweep such atrocities under the rug. It was just all of these things building up in him once or he just couldn’t take it. He finished that painting in like a month. It took him 35 days to create that massive painting. I think that’s astonishing too. A big painting like that feels like it should take a lot longer. But just that moment of anger, that moment of needing to do something, needing to act where your anger finally has reached a moment where it’s like, “I have to do something.”
I think that’s a really interesting moment to consider in myself because when I looked at this painting, it was in 2017 and the wars, and stuff in Syria have been going on for many years before this but there was some embalming in the town of Aleppo that happened in February or March right before I went because I went in March as well as spring break. I had been seeing on Facebook a bunch of videos of Syrian refugees walking away from this bombing. In one case, there was a video, and I never went to look for it again because I honestly don’t want to see it again, but I want to know, so I can fill the story to know exactly what I saw but I just don’t want to see it again, but it was a woman who was holding her child. I think the child was dead. I’m not 100% sure. She was just wailing, just like in the picture. She was covered in ash. There was not a lot of color, even though it wasn’t a black and white picture but she was in the video but she was covered in ash. That had just happened. I’d just seen that.
Then I went to see Guernica. All I could see were these videos that I had just seen, then I also kept seeing in it the 9/11. I guess because of the ash and all the pictures from the World Trade Center are all black and white because it’s just all ash. I kept seeing that in there too. I was feeling the pain of those things over and over again because I tend to stuff down new stuff because I get too emotionally connected to it, then I’m not functional. I tend to shut down those feelings, which is not healthy. But at that moment, it was just like they all were there flooding in.
Jennifer Easterling: I think it’s amazing that you keep finding new connections to different things that go on. Picasso aside and Guernica aside or whatever, like the town, just the raw imagery in the emotion film, I just see the connection between different things in my life or in things that’s going on in the world over and over, and over again. I love that it doesn’t get old. Not specifically necessarily about this one but so many pieces in general. Whatever is going on in my life or the world, somehow, I start to see those connections. It’s like I’m seeing it with fresh eyes every time, which is cool. That’s what I love about it. I just find that fascinating. I found this cool quote by Picasso as I was looking more at this and it says, “A picture is not thought out and settled beforehand. While it is being done it changes as one’s thoughts change. And when it is finished, it still goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it.” I thought, “How perfect is that?”
Cindy Ingram: Picasso? He said that? I did not know that he said that.
Jennifer Easterling: I didn’t either. I found it on a website.
Cindy Ingram: I’m thrilled because I say that all the time. It’s now in our manifesto, which I said to the podcast a few weeks ago. But we have a line in there that says that art belongs to the viewer as much as it belongs to artists. Art changes when we change. Art expands when we expand. I always wonder if artists take offense to that. Every time I say that, I’m like, “Does an artist really think that? Would they agree with me?” But Picasso is saying that. He’s saying once the art leaves his hands, it’s not done. It keeps changing.
Jennifer Easterling: I see that. I truly see that. I feel that, I’m like, “Oh, okay good.” It’s some validation I guess for my emotions.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. If you go back and see it again, you’re going to have a whole new experience. You’re going to remember the past experience. You’re going to remember this conversation, every other thought you’ve had about it since. Then there’s going to be other things that have gone on in the world too that you’re going to make. Every time you come to a painting, you’re a different person, so you’re going to have a different experience. The painting also has had a life of its own there too.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah, for sure. As I was reading more about it, after it was painted, it started touring the world to make everybody aware of what was happening, like the atrocities that were happening in Spain. It traveled for 19, 20 years, something like that. But Picasso always intended for it to go back to Spain, to stay there, and be a part of its culture but he also specified that it couldn’t go back until Spain was at peace. Like a republic was set up or a democratic society, whatever it was. It didn’t get to go back. It went to New York and stayed in New York from the beginning of World War I until 1981. It was there at The Museum of Modern Art in New York until they petitioned and they were able to bring home to a peaceful state in Spain. I thought that’s quite a powerful statement too, just within itself.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Also, that’s the year I was born. I feel like that’s relevant. It was me. It was me. Is it June 1st that they made this decision?
Jennifer Easterling: It’s close, October 25th.
Cindy Ingram: I don’t know. I had to give myself time. I hadn’t fully developed my art connections.
Jennifer Easterling: There you go.
Cindy Ingram: Wow, that’s fascinating. That really is.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. Because he wanted it to be owned by the Spanish people but he refused to let it come back. I thought that was really fascinating .
Cindy Ingram: That is. There’s another quote by Picasso that I really love. You can find this in a comic on Zen Pencils. It’s really good but the last part I’m going to feature, which says, “Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.” He knew, when he was painting this, that this was him taking a stand. This was him doing what he could do as an artist. I think that’s a really important message if you think about just for people in general, that I know I get to a place where something terrible is going on in the world and I feel really helpless. I want to be able to help but I don’t know what I can do. But I think it’s a really good message that you do what is best for you to do. You think about what your realm of influence is.
In my case, my realm of influence is Art Class Curator. I can use Art Class Curator in ways that can help me in certain ways. He was a painter, so his way of addressing this issue and his way of making change was to make a painting about it because he knew that this was the way he could use his voice. I think that’s really interesting to think about for every person like, “What is your thing that you can do, that you can control where you can make your difference?” It makes you feel a little less hopeless, helpless, and a little bit more rooted in and grounded in what you can do. You can’t do everything.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. We’re not completely helpless. I pulled up that comic to look at it. I love how it’s called Weapon of Choice. Interesting. What is your weapon of choice, is it words? Is it painting? Is it photography or filmmaking? How many people use their amazing creativity to create or to be that weapon or that voice, that outlet to share messages with the world?
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. Now that I’m looking at this comic again too, it’s so good. The images are so good. You see him slashing with his paintbrush, like it’s a sword. His mouth is wide open. He’s sweating. Every other panel is the bombing, then every other panel is him painting the picture. It’s really good.
Jennifer Easterling: Whenever you’re talking about that, like I’m standing in front of it and you see the drips, and you see the drawing, the redrawing, and all this stuff. Seeing this comic, I’m like, “Oh, that’s exactly what I was envisioning as I’m imagining him doing this painting.”
Cindy Ingram: I don’t imagine him doing this we’re very calm, methodical, paint his brush here or paint his brush here. No. He’s just attacking that canvas. You could feel that energy.
Jennifer Easterling: For sure. Like I said before, the energy around this painting is just so different than other paintings that I’ve stood in front of and looked at. Those things you can’t quite put into words and be like, “Oh, this is cool.” I don’t know how to talk about it but it’s cool.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, indeed. We talked about our personal connections to this and how it’s going to change, and the history behind it. Let’s talk about the symbolism and stuff that we see in it because we have a lesson on this somewhere. I think it’s on the blog that I did with my students. They analyzed the symbols and they thought about what the symbols could represent. I like to preface this too by saying that Picasso, his quotes about the painting, say he didn’t intentionally put symbolism in there. I can pull the exact quote.
Jennifer Easterling: I found a quote about it too, about the symbolism.
Cindy Ingram: There’s probably the one that I’m thinking of, so maybe read that.
Jennifer Easterling: When asked to explain his symbolism, Picasso remarked, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words. The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.”
Cindy Ingram: That wasn’t the exact quote that I was saying but it’s the exact same message. He says, “I’m not intentionally putting symbols in here, it’s not something that I’m like intellectually thinking of,” but that their present, they just are borne of him I think, the idea that he said. It’s up to us to analyze what they are about. I really like this because I do think the art belongs to the viewer. If he just outright said everything, then I think it takes away the fun for us of exploring the artwork.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. I think it would take away some of that connection too because as we see it, we put our own interpretation and our own meaning, then I guess I am disappointed if I go back and I read stuff, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s what that was supposed to mean? Because that’s not what I got.” I had this whole other story and invention going on in my mind, and I’m like, “Oh, okay. I’ll go back to mine. I like mine better.”
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, exactly. That’s an important message for students too because you’ll have a whole conversation with students about something, then they’ll be like, “Okay, what’s the real answer?” I’m like, “Well, we don’t know the real answer.” or “Your answer is better.” Or I’ll tell them and I’m like, “But remember that the ‘real answer’” (in air quotes because it’s not real), there are multiple right answers. There are multiple real answers. There’s no one right answer. I think that is really important to help your students understand.
Let’s talk about the animals because I was doing some research on this. I’m writing a book. I think I might have mentioned that on the podcast before, I’m not sure if I did but anyway, one of the chapters is actually about Guernica. I’m fresh on my research about it. That’s why I can pull off this random information about it. But one of the things I read was a theory that I hadn’t noticed before in my looking at it, was that the horse could potentially not be a good guy. I thought the horse was just having trauma. Like everybody else, it got hurt by the bombing. But I started to realize that in this, there’s the broken sword and the decapitated guy, and right above the broken sword is a piece of a sword stuck into the horse. It made me think that perhaps, the horse is a representation of the bombers.
Jennifer Easterling: Hmm. Yeah.
Cindy Ingram: Then also, on the horse is the only place that has that hash marked texture. When I first learned about this painting, I guess it was a teacher that told me this, it’s just one of those things that have stuck in my head until the end of time but the way they say, it lives rent-free. Someone told me once that it symbolized how Picasso learned about the attack through the newspaper. That’s supposed to represent the newspaper. That could be part of it too. Maybe the horse could represent the media or it could be somebody else.
Jennifer Easterling: Interesting. It does stand out but it’s not the entire horse though either. It’s just like the body. Three of the four legs have that hash mark. I definitely see the newspaper connection. If you look farther down on the far left leg, there’s some other little lines and stuff. I almost see them as headlines now. My mind is totally shifting and changing to this newspaper idea.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. Then what is that black and white thing in the middle? Because that has plagued me since the end of time.
Jennifer Easterling: It could be a gash on the horse’s side but then at the same time, with the lines coming through on the light, I almost see like fingers.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. In my head, it is a portal to somewhere else. It is a hand pulling it open. It’s something behind the painting.
Jennifer Easterling: That’s awesome.
Cindy Ingram: I stare at that spot probably the most of any spot of this painting, maybe because it’s right in the center of my eye line too.
Jennifer Easterling: It’s true. Then you’ve got that eye shaped light bulb right above it or you think about people who’ve gone through serious trauma, they need that escape. Are you escaping in your mind or maybe this is the escape portal to another realm to escape the horrors. I don’t know. We could go into all kinds of things.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, I like that.
Jennifer Easterling: It looks like a ghost. Is it the ghostly figure coming out to other realms? I don’t know.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, I don’t know.
Jennifer Easterling: We can see all kinds of possibilities.
Cindy Ingram: It’s interesting too, there are some signs of hope, like the flower and the light but I noticed, when I was looking at the artwork and I know this because I wrote about it, right after I got home, I wrote a blog post about it, so I know what was fresh in my mind, is I talked about how I noticed in the drawings versus the painting and also, there are spots in the painting, when you see it in person, you can see what was going on underneath, like what he had attempted, then he changed. You can’t see it at all in the picture. I know it exists because I just remember it but I can’t have specifics. But I did notice that there were more explicit signs of hope in the painting. There was more of those little bits of positiveness but they didn’t make it into the final version. Even that flower is gray. You can barely tell it’s there. He had more of that in there but then he took it away. I can see he probably did not see any signs of hope there. The bombing of the whole town, destruction of the whole town.
Jennifer Easterling: That flower, you don’t see it at first but when you do, it seems so different from the rest of the painting, you’re like, “How would he include this little ghosted flower in the midst of all this other horror and devastation?”
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. It’s not an outdoor space. It’s not like it was a flower that was being grown and that one just happened to not get destroyed. I always view them as in a basement or something because there’s tiled ground, then there are walls and there’s the incandescent light bulb that always reminds me of a basement. But then there’s this door with light coming in, then the ghost coming from up high. I’ve always viewed this as a basement.
Jennifer Easterling: You definitely get that feel that tight space that goes into the composition of pulling. I guess that helps with the tension of the whole piece. You just feel cramped with all of this going on.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. You think about this size of a room because we do see the corners of the room, all of this devastation and drama is happening in a small space. That cycle, subconsciously, probably really adds to the intensity of the person. You don’t necessarily know that’s part of it but it’s like you can’t escape this. There’s no getting out of this room.
Jennifer Easterling: Just like you think to the people, there was no escape for those people. It just happened and caught them off guard. There was no warning. Even though we don’t really put emphasis on elements and principles, you can see them really at play in this and how an artist is taking them, and using them to his advantage. Whether he’s intending to or not, there’s a whole lot of that going on in the stark contrast of the black and the white, and you’re shifting and changing constantly. At one moment, you see this. The next moment, you see something else and see how all that plays off of each other.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah. The elements of principles work in this. This is just a really good one for analyzing. But what makes me think, I was about to start doing that, I’m about to start thinking, “Oh, this is leading to the emphasis here.” But then I realized, like me doing that is me doing that on this small scale on this computer screen. That I can see the whole image. I can see it. But if I was here standing in front of it, all of these people would be larger than me.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah, they are.
Cindy Ingram: If it’s 11 feet wide, that’s like two of me laying side to side across the painting. My head is probably as big as that decapitated guy’s head. This is life size.
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. You’re confronted more with these figures. They become a lot more real whenever you’re seeing them face to face in life-size.
Cindy Ingram: It’s pretty amazing, thinking of him making this such a cohesive thing when it was that big.
Jennifer Easterling: It’s shifting and changing so much, like the horse’s face has a lot more of the shading where other shapes are really flat, then you’ve got the one texture but yet it all works. It all goes together somehow. Maybe that’s part of the chaos of it that plays into your subconscious. You’ve got so much chaos. You’ve got the cramped space. The shifting and changing, I think it really plays on you psychologically.
Cindy Ingram: You know what would be a really good exercise with students is to look at all of Picasso’s styles before this one. Look at his Cubist work, like the mademoiselle painting all the different types of styles he did and see how every single one of them is represented here. You can see the progression. It is like the best summary of all of his work up until now but then infused with this extra actual meaning, story, and emotion. It’s like he’s taking everything he did before and he’s taking his emotions all together to create this masterpiece. It’s like he was born to create this painting. Every moment of his life was building up to this.
Jennifer Easterling: What a statement.
Cindy Ingram: I think I just discounted all of his work up until this point but it was good work. I’ve had very powerful experiences with his early work too but it’s amazing. I feel like we have been a little bit all over the place but I think that’s okay because this painting is all over the place. I just want to mention again, I talked about the drawings around it but for every character in this painting, he did multiple sketches and drawings of them at various stages of agony. He was experimenting with what is the most agony, which you can do, seeing all of the sketches, especially the woman with the baby. I think I also connect to her the most too because I’m a mother. I bet most mothers are probably going to be like, that’s who you’re going to be looking at, probably fathers too but it’s like she is just the most intense. But in the drawings leading up, I would want to look away from the painting and I’d turn around, and the other wall behind me would be just her in five other states of agony. It was pretty intense.
Jennifer Easterling: And it’s crazy to think that a painting could have that much effect on someone. That gut-wrenching, it’s crazy.
Cindy Ingram: You said you were with a student and another adult, how did they respond? Do you remember?
Jennifer Easterling: Yes. They were both in awe. She teaches history. She was having the history side. She’s also taught a lot of art and it was her daughter. She, of course, grew up with art. We talked about it afterwards but honestly, I didn’t even look at them. Once I went into the room, I zoned everybody else out. It was just like me in the painting and the guards pushing me of course. It’s crazy. Going back and putting myself in that room, I remember we chatted about it. I don’t remember what we said but it captivated my attention so much that I lost everything else that was going on around me and it drew me in. I always have that happen. Every once in a while, it does but specifically, that one. Then I’ve gone back because I’m trying to like, “Where were they? I know they were there. I’m pretty sure they were there.” It’d be interesting to go back and talk to her now, especially being a history teacher and get her take on it, and stuff because I’m fascinated with any art connected with World War II somehow, whether it was painted around that time or it was stolen or whatever. I’m just fascinated by it all for some reason. I guess that’s part of why I’ve been drawn to this because it’s painted into a reaction of what was going on.
Cindy Ingram: I went with my husband, like I said earlier and his response was, “Meh.” He said, “It doesn’t do anything for me.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” I was sobbing. I stopped trying to wipe the tears at this point. They just were flowing. I was just like, “How is that even possible for you to be in this room and say meh. It doesn’t do anything for me.” I was just devastated. I couldn’t believe it. But also, he is good at looking at art. He will go to look at art with me. He’ll go to museums with me. He does enjoy it. He does recognize artists. Especially when I worked in art museums, I would be talking about this one artist for however long the exhibit was open. He learned a lot but he didn’t like this one.
Jennifer Easterling: I was trying to remember my husband’s reaction when we went to the show in Houston that had all the drawings and stuff. I think he was the same as like, “Picasso’s weird.”
Cindy Ingram: That same day too, we were supposed to go to the Prado right after this but I couldn’t. I was full. I think the jet lag mixed with just how emotional of an experience it was, I was like, “I need to do something.” I’m not even going to see it if I go. We did actually go to the Prado but I was like, “I just need to see a couple things.” I ran through, just to see a couple things. It was devastating that I didn’t really get to fully experience it. That’s the bucket list to go back to but we ended up going to some castle.
Jennifer Easterling: Was it lovely?
Cindy Ingram: It was. I just could not do anything emotional.
Jennifer Easterling: We had come to the Prado but it was again, that same quick experience because we didn’t have a lot of time. We were supposed to have a great time at the Prado and our guide had made up this whole scavenger hunt to send the kids through to do all these fun things. We get there and the guards won’t let anybody take any pictures of anything. I don’t know what it was with Spain. They wouldn’t let us talk and they wouldn’t let us take pictures, and we’re like, “We just want to enjoy the art. You’re not letting us.”
Cindy Ingram: Was the scavenger hunt activity involved taking pictures?
Jennifer Easterling: Yeah. You stand beside a sculpture or something and take a picture, and send it. They yelled at me for taking a picture out the window. Not even at the art. I was like, “I’m taking a picture of something cool outside.” “No.” I was like, “Okay.”
Cindy Ingram: Oh, museums, I swear.
Jennifer Easterling: Apparently, that was something that had just changed because when the guide went there, a couple weeks before, there was no issue. They could take pictures. I don’t know what changed. Maybe it was pandemic stuff. Who knows? Or they didn’t want us there. Who knows?
Cindy Ingram: I feel like the photo thing was a thing when I went because I just ran through because I wanted to see The Third of May and I wanted to see The Garden of Earthly Delights specifically, then there were some El Greco’s I wanted to see. I knew what I was looking for, then there were a hundred other things I had to stop and glance at on my way but I do remember sneakily taking pictures of The Garden of Earthly Delights.
Jennifer Easterling: I may or may not have done the same.
Cindy Ingram: I do have a very, very fast selfie in front of it that I just did as quickly as I could when no one was watching.
Jennifer Easterling: Same with Las Meninas.
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, that was the other one I wanted to see.
Jennifer Easterling: I got to walk around with some people and tell them about it. I felt happy. I came up and I was like, “You all stand guard, I’m going to snap some pictures. Don’t tell anybody.”
Cindy Ingram: Yeah, we just admitted it. They’re going to come after us.
Jennifer Easterling: They probably will.
Cindy Ingram: I think that this painting is amazing. We had a good conversation about it. It might have been a little bit all over the place but that’s okay too. For those of you listening, two things. If you want to travel and have these powerful art experiences, we do take trips at Art Class Curator. If you go to artclasscurator.com/travel, our next trip is to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand in June of 2022.
Jennifer Easterling: I’m so excited to go.
Cindy Ingram: We’re both going. If you want to very least hang out with us.
Jennifer Easterling: You totally want to hang out with us.
Cindy Ingram: They’re listening, so they obviously do.
Jennifer Easterling: We got a whole bunch of random stuff in art.
Cindy Ingram: Then also, that manifesto I mentioned, if you want to download that, you can go to artclasscurator.com/manifesto. Is there anything else? Anything we talked about like the show notes, the comics, the blog post I wrote about this, I will put links to all of that in the show notes. Also, this book I’m writing, if you want to get on the waitlist to get that, you can go to artclasscurator.com/book and you can get on our email list and be notified when that comes out. It’s still a ways away. Don’t expect that anytime soon I’ve got another year in it.
Jennifer Easterling: It’s going to be amazing.
Cindy Ingram: It’ll be good. I’m enjoying writing it. Sure I am. Thank you so much for listening. I will see you again next week.
What’s keeping you from showing more artwork to your students? Do you get stuck trying to choose a work of art or do you fear your students will ask a question that you don’t know the answer to? Have you tried to start a classroom art discussion but didn’t know what to say or how to get your students talking? Are you worried you’re going to spend a ton of time researching and planning a lesson that none of your students are interested in? That’s why we created Beyond the Surface, a free professional development email series, all about how to teach works of art through memorable activities and thoughtful classroom discussions. With Beyond the Surface, you’ll discover how to choose artworks your students will connect with and learn exactly what to say, and do to spark engagement and create a lasting impact. Plus you’ll get everything you need to curate these powerful learning experiences without spending all of your time planning. Sign up to receive this free professional development email course at artclasscurator.com/surface.
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