Here is an idea I’ve been meaning to write down for months. As is my new custom, I’m throwing away hope of writing about it well — sometimes, we need to dump things out of our head to focus on all the other things demanding our attention.
A minimal number of words will do, and a minimal amount of time. A simple record of an idea, to purge it from the list.
A while back I read an excellent memoir about Pablo Picasso, Life with Picasso. The book is written by Françoise Gilot, an excellent artist in her own right and a fascinating individual, who happened to be a long-term lover with Picasso over some years.
I think Picasso was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, but that's not to say I have a predisposition to liking him as a person. In truth, I found a lot of Picasso’s personality traits as described in the memoir dislikable. Though there was some balance of both positive and negative, from Gilot's book it seems fair to say that Picasso was, on whole, a bit of an arsehole.
One thing I did admire was his insistance on staying in Paris when the nazis occupied France — even though he was on their list as an “obscene artist,” which made him a real target. Nazi officers would come to his house and harass him during the years of French invasion, trying to intimidate him and succeeding in annoying him, but he dealt with it and made it through those years in one piece.
From the memoir, the trait that left the strongest impression on me, with ambivalent feelings, related to how he managed friendships. He was unable to abide friendships that didn’t have solid foundations, so he would constantly stress test all the relationships in his life as a way to check their strength. He would allow no friend an easy ride.
For example, he would confront friends with silly doubts he had about them, or attack weak spots in their personalities, aiming to hit nerves. The idea seemed to be to see their true colours, or to know what they really thought of him — and also to gauge their ability to hit back and hold their own. Like shaking a table to gauge how study it is. Would it hold tight, or just start breaking apart?
James Lanternman writes movie reviews, fiction, essays, and moonlit thoughts. Reach him at [email protected].