English - Picasso, Still-Life with Chair Caning, 1912 | Amara (2022)

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    (music) ("Sex Partners for
    Kindergartners" by Scalding Lucy)

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    Beth: Let's talk about
    Picasso's great painting

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    "Still Life With Chair Caning" from 1912.

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    Voiceover: It's barely
    a painting at all ...

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    makes it great. (laughs)

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    Steven: I think in many ways, it at least

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    looks at least like a disaster.

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    What's great about it is the ideas that

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    he's thrown into this painting.

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    Beth: Since it's not so
    beautiful to look at,

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    I guess we have to talk about the ideas.

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    Steven: Why isn't it beautiful?

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    What do you want from a painting

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    for it to be beautiful?

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    Beth: My big problem with why this is

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    not beautiful is that
    it's all grey and brown.

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    It's my big problem with
    analytic Cubist in general.

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    I like color.

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    Steven: This is why people
    walk by these paintings

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    in a museum and they say,

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    "I know that's important,
    but do I have to look at it?"

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    Beth: Also, all of these
    analytic Cubist paintings

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    tend to look the same.

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    Voiceover: So how does one then enter into

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    the painting and stop and pay attention?

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    What's the entree into this painting?

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    Steven: Well, it's pretty arresting.

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    If you were seeing this in the museum

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    as opposed to on a computer screen,

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    the first thing you would notice is that

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    only the top and the
    right side of the canvas,

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    that is only area here and this area here,

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    are really paint.

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    The entire bottom left
    part of the canvas is

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    this other material which
    is called "oil cloth".

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    Beth: Has anyone ever
    introduced oil cloth,

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    put oil cloth on a painting before?

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    Steven: [Brock] had, but just recently.

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    Before that, of course not.

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    The reason for "of course not", is because

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    oil cloth was the cheapest material ...

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    Beth: Right, you buy it like roller.

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    Steven: It's like contact paper.

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    It's the stuff you line
    your shelves with or

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    use on a cheap table so
    you can wipe up spills.

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    Beth: Hardly high art material.

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    Steven: So what does that mean?

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    What is that suggesting
    Picasso is doing here?

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    Beth: He's making art into garbage.

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    Steven: Into trash, that's right.

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    Voicemail: Or visa versa.

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    Beth: Or trash into art, absolutely.

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    Voiceover: But again, how does one enter

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    into this without understanding
    all of those things

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    which are keen to the common viewer?

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    Beth: I don't think one does.

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    I think this painting
    only becomes great when

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    one understands its place
    in the history of art.

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    Steven: I don't think that Picasso

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    actually expected many people to

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    look at this painting in the first place.

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    If they did, I think that he was speaking

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    to a very small audience.

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    Beth: How big is this painting?

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    Steven: It's less than two feet across.

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    Beth: So is it about the size of a table?

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    Steven: It's about the size of a table.

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    That's exactly what it is, in fact.

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    We're really looking at a breakfast table.

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    We're putting up on the screen now ...

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    What you're seeing is, on the upper right,

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    a detail of this "Still
    Life With Chair Caning."

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    But let's just stop and even just say what

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    this chair caning is, and
    this oil cloth business.

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    On the left, you can see some rolls of

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    oil cloth that are for sale.

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    You'll notice that there's
    a printed pattern on them.

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    Below, oil cloth being
    used as a tablecloth.

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    The printed pattern that Picasso bought

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    in a hardware store as if he had gone to

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    Home Depot or something
    and bought this material.

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    Had printed on it a photograph of,

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    well, it really wasn't a photograph, but

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    a drawing of chair caning, so this

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    sort of repetitive pattern.

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    He takes it and he
    literally just glues it down

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    onto a canvas and then
    just paints over it.

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    Beth: What's interesting to me is that the

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    chair caning in the painting is incredibly

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    illusionistic and looks really looks like

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    the chair caning on this chair.

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    Steven: So let me ask you
    then, is Picasso cheating?

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    Historically we've
    always tied the notion of

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    the conceptual and the
    great artist to his ability

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    his ability to render,
    her ability to render

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    illusionistically and
    so is Picasso cheating

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    by going out and buying this factory-made,

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    reproduced material and
    sticking it into the

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    painting and saying, "I don't
    have to paint this anymore."

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    Beth: Not only that, but
    the idea of skill and

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    greatness being calculated by how well

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    one renders reality becomes sort of moot

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    because machines can print reality on

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    cheap stuff and you can
    buy it at Home Depot.

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    Why wouldn't artists?

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    Male voiceover: Obviously
    this is a discussion

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    that we wouldn't have today because

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    we would never consider that cheating,

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    taking found objects.

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    Was that a discussion when
    this painting appeared?

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    Steven: It was. In fact, I
    think it's a discussion that

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    not only begins to really sort of

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    very consciously break those taboos

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    but it also sends out
    what will eventually,

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    in about 50 years, become
    known as "pop art".

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    This idea of actually looking to our

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    new industrial culture, or
    visual industrial culture

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    and saying, "What is
    the place of that world

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    in the realm of fine art?"

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    Voiceover: Didn't [DuSchoen]
    do that before pop art?

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    Steven: He did. Absolutely.

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    Beth: He was [unintelligible].

  • 5:25 - 5:27

    Voiceover: What is the JOU?

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    What do you think that's all about?

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    Steven: Well, the JOU had a couple of

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    different meanings as I understand it.

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    One is a reference to the
    French word for "game".

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    Voiceover: [JOUA], that's what I thought.

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    Beth: That's right.

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    Voiceover: That's exactly what I thought.

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    Steven: And the second is, those are the

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    first three letters of the
    French word "newspaper".

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    Voiceover: Journal.

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    Steven: Precisely.

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    So if you read this, the
    JOU, you can actually

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    read it in a very literal sense as a

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    rolled up newspaper on a table.

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    It also has that double entente and

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    suggests that the entire painting is

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    a type of play.

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    Voiceover: [French word]

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    Steven: Yes.

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    Beth: So what we're
    looking at is a table top,

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    but if we look at the
    pictures on the left of

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    cafe tables with chairs with chair caning,

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    those tables are round so ...

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    Steven: So what's the problem?

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    Male voiceover: That this is an ellipse as

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    opposed to ...

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    Beth: How do you get an ellipse?

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    You get an ellipse by looking at a circle

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    from an oblique viewpoint.

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    Steven: Go to the next image, one forward,

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    now you know the table
    you're seeing on the right

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    is in fact, a perfectly round table,

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    but we're looking at it obliquely,

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    we're looking at it at
    an angle and so we're

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    actually seeing it as
    a kind of ellipse that

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    Picasso's offering us.

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    So is it possible that
    we're actually looking at

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    a glass-topped table and in fact,

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    what we're seeing as chair caning is

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    the chair flipped underneath it.

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    Voiceover: What a neat way
    to look at the painting.

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    That's really cool.

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    Beth: Why take apart all
    the forms that are on top?

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    We're looking through the table,

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    we're thinking about the idea of

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    looking through the table
    and the table is glass,

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    also suggests an idea,
    an important idea of

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    western art of the painting being a window

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    into a world that looks very real.

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    But on the other hand, Picasso's making it

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    really clear that he's
    not looking at things

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    illusionistically, he's
    looking at the objects

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    on the table from lots of
    different places [unintelligible].

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    Voiceover: You're seeing
    everything simultaneously

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    without any kind of distinction.

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    Everything's been flattened so they all

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    share the same plane almost.

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    That's an interesting, disconcerting
    way of looking at things.

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    Steven: I think you're
    both right on target where

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    he wants to show us his
    entire visual understanding

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    of this sort of place, this event.

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    He's not just giving us the table top,

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    he's giving us the table
    top with the chair,

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    and all of the objects
    really deconstructed so

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    that they include not
    what he would see from

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    a single perspective, as you said,

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    but what he would see in his
    full visual understanding

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    of each of these forms over
    time with his visual memory.

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    Beth: So what we have on the
    table apparently is a clay pipe.

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    Steven: You can see that right below here.

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    Here's the bowl of the
    pipe and here's its stem

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    down here which is obviously leaning

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    right up over the newspaper almost

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    intersecting that newspaper.

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    Beth: And then over here, that's
    a little bit more obvious.

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    We've got a detail over here on the right.

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    Steven: You can see the segmentations of

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    some citrus; we put a
    lemon up as an example,

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    but it's being cut through by the knife.

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    Can you see the blade of the knife?

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    Beth: Where's the blade of the knife?

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    Steven: That's right, more
    like a cleaver than a knife.

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    This would be the blade
    and this here, the handle.

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    Beth: Oh.

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    Steven: In between, of
    course the newspaper,

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    the pipe on the left and, I'm sorry ...

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    The newspaper and the pipe on the left,

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    and the knife and the
    lemon on the right is

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    well, can you make it out?

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    Voiceover: Where?

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    Steven: This and everything above it.

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    Beth: A bottle of wine?

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    Steven: A glass.

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    Beth: A glass.

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    Steven: A piece of stemware.

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    Beth: A little bit like
    what we had on the table.

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    Steven: That's right. If you
    look at the glass of red wine,

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    you'll see not only this kind of wonderful

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    reflectivity in it, but you can see
    the lip of the top of the glass,

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    you can see the plane
    of the top of the wine,

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    and then of course, the stem
    and the base of the glass.

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    If you go back over to,
    lets see if we can zoom in

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    on the central glass.

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    Maybe by going forward.

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    Beth: I think if we go
    back to the painting

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    that we had in the
    beginning you'll see it.

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    Steven: Okay, so now if
    we look at this carefully,

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    you can see here down at the bottom,

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    this kind of wonderful
    ring and can you just

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    imagine that now as the base of the glass

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    that it's resting on?

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    Look at it. We're looking down at it and

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    then look at this line
    that's more horizontal.

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    Is it possible that Picasso's taken

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    a second viewpoint and
    we're looking across

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    this sort of thick object, the stem,

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    the base of the stem, the bowl from

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    several different angles and then

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    looking at the top, looking across the top

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    and then looking down at the top here.

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    Voiceover: So basically
    what we're looking at

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    is a painting within
    which there are multiple

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    viewpoints of different objects and

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    they're all fused together.

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    But I have a couple
    questions about the rope.

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    Is the rope literally a rope?

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    Steven: It's a real rope
    that Picasso actually

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    went to a ropemaker and had specifically

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    custom made for this canvas.

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    Voiceover: It's funny
    that you have the rope

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    containing something, it's
    the one literal container

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    of something that seems
    so uncontained in a way.

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    Everything inside of it seems,

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    you don't know what's holding it together

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    and it's the rope itself functions as

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    some glue to keep it all together.

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    Steven: It really bundles this mess.

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    Voiceover: It does bundle
    it and then adds a little,

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    when you show this painting
    next to the table top,

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    it's the one literal
    reference to the table ...

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    to that, I guess it was a
    silver edge to the table.

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    Steven: I think we've seen a sort of theme

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    restaurant, seafoodie places.

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    Voiceover: Right.

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    Steven: Tables with ropes around them.

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    I think the rope really is a problem.

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    I think it's a question as to why ...

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    Voiceover: It seems like it doesn't fit.

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    Steven: Yeah.

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    Voiceover: It seems like an attempt to

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    domesticate something
    that's not domesticatable.

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    Steven: But does it point out some of the

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    conflicts that exist between the oil cloth

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    and the chair caning inside,

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    and the little rendering through paint in

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    a sort of Cubist portion
    of the painting at the top?

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    By showing this sort of contrast between

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    the evidentiality of the rope and the

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    space of the view within it,

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    sort of very consciously setting up

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    something that's clearly
    actual and tactile,

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    like something that is truly visual.

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    Beth: We have a lot of levels of reality

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    We think Plato would have
    had a lot of fun with this

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    because we have the real rope,

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    we have the real chair caning,

  • 12:41 - 12:42

    oil cloth with the chair caning ...

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    Steven: Which has an illusion.

  • 12:43 - 12:46

    Beth: Which has an
    illusion of chair caning,

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    and then we have the
    painting which creates

  • 12:49 - 12:52

    a kind of, in a way,
    probably a higher level of

  • 12:52 - 12:55

    reality by showing all viewpoints at once

  • 12:55 - 12:58

    instead of a single
    viewpoint to a greater or

  • 12:58 - 13:01

    almost divine reality.

  • 13:01 - 13:03

    Voiceover: Wouldn't this be wonderful as

  • 13:03 - 13:06

    an actual table top?
    (Beth giggles)

  • 13:06 - 13:08

    Voiceover: As opposed to a painting?

  • 13:08 - 13:11

    Voiceover: You might put just a pane of

  • 13:11 - 13:12

    oval glass on it, it'd be fabulous.

  • 13:12 - 13:14

    Beth: It would be fabulous. (laughs)

  • 13:14 - 13:15

    Voiceover: And I think you'd pay a lot

  • 13:15 - 13:16

    more attention to it.

  • 13:16 - 13:28

    (music) ("In The Sky With
    Diamonds" by Scalding Lucy)

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