AskDefine | Define cubism

Dictionary Definition

cubism n : an artistic movement in France beginning in 1907 that featured surfaces of geometrical planes

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Alternative spellings


From } cubisme. One story is that, in 1908, as a new canvas by Braques was being carried past, someone said, “Encore des Cubes! assez de cubisme!”. The quotations below ascribe the coinage to Matisse.
See also the word cube (from Latin cubus, from (kybos))


  • a UK /ˈkjʊub.izəm/ /"kjU:b.iz@m/


  1. In the context of "often|capitalized": An artistic movement in the early 20th Century characterized by the depiction of natural forms as geometric structures of planes.


  • 2003, The New Yorker, 3 March,
    Matisse coined the name Cubism as a derisive joke.
  • 2005, The New Yorker, 29 Aug, p. 78,
    A few recall that, in 1908, he [Matisse] inspired the coinage of the term “cubism,” in disparagement of a movement that would eclipse his leading influence on the Parisian avant-garde.


An artistic movement characterized by the depiction of natural forms as geometric structures of planes




Extensive Definition

Cubism was a 20th century art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music and literature. The first branch of cubism, known as Analytic Cubism, was both radical and influential as a short but highly significant art movement between 1908 and 1911 in France. In its second phase, Synthetic Cubism, the movement spread and remained vital until around 1919, when the Surrealist movement gained popularity.
In cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the shallow ambiguous space, one of cubism's distinct characteristics.

Conception and origins

Cubism was taken up by many artists in Montparnasse and promoted by art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, becoming popular so quickly that by 1911 critics were referring to a "cubist school" of artists. However, many of the artists who thought of themselves as cubists went in directions quite different from Braque and Picasso. The Puteaux Group was a significant offshoot of the Cubist movement; it included Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, his brothers Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and Jacques Villon, and Fernand Léger, and Francis Picabia. Other important artists associated with cubism include: Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Marie Laurencin, Diego Rivera, Marie Vorobieff, Louis Marcoussis, Jeanne Rij-Rousseau, Roger de La Fresnaye, Henri Le Fauconnier, František Kupka, Amédée Ozenfant, Patrick Henry Bruce among others. Section d'Or is another name for a related group of many of the same artists associated with cubism and orphism.
In 1913 the United States was exposed to cubism and modern European art when Jacques Villon exhibited seven important and large drypoints at the famous Armory Show in New York City. Braque and Picasso themselves went through several distinct phases before 1920, and some of these works had been seen in New York prior to the Armory Show, at Alfred Stieglitz's "291" gallery. Czech artists who realized the epochal significance of cubism of Picasso and Braque attempted to extract its components for their own work in all branches of artistic creativity - especially painting and architecture. This developed into so-called Czech Cubism which was an avant-garde art movement of Czech proponents of cubism active mostly in Prague from 1910 to 1914.

Analytic Cubism

Analytic Cubism is one of the two major branches of the artistic movement of Cubism and was developed between 1908 and 1912. In contrast to Synthetic cubism, Analytic cubists "analyzed" natural forms and reduced the forms into basic geometric parts on the two-dimensional picture plane. Colour was almost non-existent except for the use of a monochromatic scheme that often included grey, blue and ochre. Instead of an emphasis on colour, Analytic cubists focused on forms like the cylinder, sphere and the cone to represent the natural world. During this movement, the works produced by Picasso and Braque shared stylistic similarities.
Both painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque moved toward abstraction, leaving only enough signs of the real world to supply a tension between the reality outside the painting and the complicated meditations on visual language within the frame, exemplified through their paintings Ma Jolie (1911), by Picasso and The Portuguese (1911), by Braque.
In Paris in 1907 there was a major museum retrospective exhibition of the work of Paul Cezanne shortly after his death. The exhibition was enormously influential in establishing Cezanne as an important painter whose ideas were particularly resonant especially to young artists in Paris. Both Picasso and Braque found the inspiration for Cubism from Paul Cezanne, who said to observe and learn to see and treat nature as if it were composed of basic shapes like cubes, spheres, cylinders, and cones. Picasso was the main analytic cubist, but Braque was also prominent, having abandoned Fauvism to work with Picasso in developing the Cubist lexicon.

Synthetic Cubism

Synthetic Cubism was the second main branch of Cubism developed by Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris and others between 1912 and 1919. It was seen as the first time that collage had been made as a fine art work.
The first work of this new style was Pablo Picasso's Still Life with Chair-caning (1911–1912), which includes oil cloth pasted on the canvas. At the upper left are the letters "JOU", which appear in many cubist paintings and may refer to a newspaper titled "Le Journal". Newspaper clippings were a common inclusion in this style of cubism, whereby physical pieces of newspaper, sheet music, or the like were included in the collages. JOU may also at the same time be a pun on the French words jeu (game) or jouer (to play). Picasso and Braque had a constant friendly competition with each other and including the letters in their works may have been an extension of their game.
Whereas analytic cubism was an analysis of the subjects (pulling them apart into planes), synthetic cubism is more of a pushing of several objects together. Picasso, through this movement, was the first to use text in his artwork (to flatten the space), and the use of mixed media—using more than one type of medium in the same piece. Opposed to analytic cubism, synthetic cubism has fewer planar shifts (or schematism), and less shading, creating flatter space.
Another technique used was called papier collé, or stuck paper, which Braque used in his collage Fruit Dish and Glass (1913).

Cubism and its ideologies

Paris before World War I was a ferment of politics. New anarcho-syndicalist trade unions and women's rights movements were especially new and vigorous. There were strong movements around patriotic nationalism. Cubism was a particularly varied art movement in its political affiliations, with some sections being broadly anarchist or leftist, while others were strongly aligned with nationalist sentiment.

Cubism in other fields

Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" is also said to demonstrate how cubism's multiple perspectives can be translated into poetry.
The composer Edgard Varèse was heavily influenced by Cubist writing and art.

Cubism today

Far from being an art movement confined to the annals of art history, Cubism and its legacy continue to inform the work of many contemporary artists. Not only is cubist imagery regularly used commercially but significant numbers of contemporary artists continue to draw upon it both stylistically and perhaps more importantly, theoretically. The latter contains the clue as to the reason for cubism's enduring fascination for artists. As an essentially representational school of painting, having to come to grips with the rising importance of photography as an increasingly viable method of image making, cubism attempts to take representational imagery beyond the mechanically photographic and to move beyond the bounds of traditional single point perspective perceived, as though, by a totally immobile viewer. The questions and theories which arose during the initial appearance of cubism in the early 20th century are, for many representational artists, as current today as when first proposed.


Further reading

  • Inheriting Cubism: The Impact of Cubism on American Art, 1909-1936
cubism in Afrikaans: Kubisme
cubism in Arabic: مدرسة تكعيبية
cubism in Min Nan: Li̍p-thé-chú-gī
cubism in Bosnian: Kubizam
cubism in Bulgarian: Кубизъм
cubism in Catalan: Cubisme
cubism in Czech: Kubismus
cubism in Danish: Kubisme
cubism in German: Kubismus
cubism in Estonian: Kubism
cubism in Modern Greek (1453-): Κυβισμός
cubism in Spanish: Cubismo
cubism in Esperanto: Kubismo
cubism in Persian: حجم‌گری
cubism in French: Cubisme
cubism in Irish: Ciúbachas
cubism in Galician: Cubismo
cubism in Korean: 입체파
cubism in Croatian: Kubizam
cubism in Ido: Kubismo
cubism in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Cubismo
cubism in Italian: Cubismo
cubism in Hebrew: קוביזם
cubism in Georgian: კუბიზმი
cubism in Kurdish: Kubizm
cubism in Lithuanian: Kubizmas
cubism in Hungarian: Kubizmus
cubism in Macedonian: Кубизам
cubism in Malayalam: ക്യൂബിസം
cubism in Dutch: Kubisme
cubism in Japanese: キュビスム
cubism in Norwegian: Kubisme
cubism in Occitan (post 1500): Cubisme
cubism in Low German: Kubismus
cubism in Polish: Kubizm
cubism in Portuguese: Cubismo
cubism in Romanian: Cubism
cubism in Russian: Кубизм
cubism in Sicilian: Cubbismu
cubism in Simple English: Cubism
cubism in Slovak: Kubizmus
cubism in Slovenian: Kubizem
cubism in Serbian: Кубизам
cubism in Finnish: Kubismi
cubism in Swedish: Kubism
cubism in Tamil: கியூபிசம்
cubism in Vietnamese: Lập thể
cubism in Turkish: Kübizm
cubism in Ukrainian: Кубізм
cubism in Chinese: 立体主义
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