The “Psychology” of Dedicated/Difficult Reading According to Picasso


Pablo Picasso, “Woman Reading”, 1953, oil on canvass, 114 x 145 cm.

In 2012 in US, when serious reading is less and less available for the masses of population distracted by pop-singing, professional sport events, video-games and Hollywood and TV entertainment (and unconscious megalomania created by these and other kinds of consumerism), to focus on Picasso’s smiling comments on serious reading in number of paintings, means to follow alternative cultural direction – orientation on the development of our soul and mind, and on the healing of our hurt humanity. Let’s analyze the “form” of Picasso’s painting that carries a much richer meaning than that in the works of many other painters. Let’s try to see Picasso’s mind silenced but far from being muted by the medium he works through.

Leaving light and day behind, according to Picasso’s images, is a precondition of dedicated reading. The reading woman is turned away from the right yellow area of the canvass signifying daytime, darkened (dirtied) by the dusty and smoggy air and by the street noise – she is doing something more important than to be bathing in light of the day. She retreated into a silent darkness – to the womb of reading, to a non-life, to a life that is less and more than life. She has left the world; she has left a perception supported by external objects – in order to buttress herself with the dark brown surface of the reading table, by its hard dry soil into which she has implanted her curiosity.

But what is this dark blue, these dark-blue patches – around the woman’s head, then under her left hand supporting her concentration, and blue area on the bottom of the painting (under the table)? The dark blue over her head is a humorously modified nimbus around the saints’ heads in the traditional Christian paintings, transformed from a shining golden-yellow into a thick, heavy color of sadness. If light-blue is the color of promise and ease, the dark-blue is the color of effort and concern (of uncertainty of success). In this painting it is the emotional tonality of the very effort of serious reading – of forgetting oneself, of trying to understand what we don’t, of anger at the “arrogance” of the writer “who thinks he/she is smarter than I” (you cannot learn anything without “accepting” this “humiliation”). Reading a tough text makes the cloudless soul darkened and full of hail. There are less and less people who read books and fewer writers who write disinterestedly for the sake of giving chance to readers to learn about the human soul, life and the world. Consumption and entertainment take human souls out of reading as fish out of water or bird out of air. The mind of this woman-cultural reader shares this dark blue over her forehead with her left hand that helps her not to lose the attention that needs a person’s asceticism to be able to keep going. But why is this dark blue a dominant color under the reading table? And why is the lower part of the woman’s body on the table, not under? I invite the readers and viewers of the painting to volunteer interpretations, but – be careful – Picasso is not a puritan.

A reading that demands effort of attention and concentration but is not connected with technical education (for the sake of future job) – reading for the sake of life, not for “survival”, not only separates us from everyday life and puts us into a dark box (Picasso situates reading in), it splits the body of the readeress into two parts. They are: the breasts which generously preside over the whiteness of the pages the woman is reading, and the lower part of her body, that Picasso represents as a fish-body with a fish-tail. This fish-body of human female body (males have their variant – the fist body!) now is navigating towards the book and as such is more sublime than ever: its tail is of a white color – the same color as the book’s pages, hands and the face/head of the readeress. Greenness of the breasts (dressed in verdure color), is connected with the white pages of the book like the lower part of her torso and thighs – with a white metaphysical tail! The tail navigates the woman’s low torso and thighs toward reading as woman’s right “paw” fixates the white meaning of the pages. One of the woman-reader‘s hand is on the book, another keeps her chin. Can it be one of the reasons why the dark blue dominates the low part of the painting?

But what about the woman’s shawl that was meant to warm her during the physical stillness that reading requires? The shawl is transformed into an angel’s wings! So, Picasso’s “message” is – if you want to be transformed into angel become a serious reader! If you want to transform your body by educating/sublimating it – read challenging texts! And then even your shawl will be transformed into angel’s wings! – And your breastness and fishness/tighness will be transformed into the whiteness of (metaphysical) sublimity that is more concrete than your everyday life and readymade aspirations and ideas.

But why Picasso picked a woman to show “the ennobling” process of tough reading? – The pathos of the feminist enthusiasm interrupts us at this point at once – To suggest that women are not educated enough? Why didn’t he show a man reading? Is he making the point here that men don’t need to read as much as women do because they are already smarter? – No, of course, not. – Picasso just tries to say that women are more curious and more capable of educating themselves (they are more patient, more persistent, and more reasonable).

Picasso, it seems, makes women an example for men. He tries to encourage men to emulate women’s ability to read and their linguistic proficiency. Picasso suggests that men ought to learn from women how to read with whole body, with whole being involved, with “putting body on the same table the book lies on”.

Reading intervenes into the human body, ripping apart the human lower-body (fish-body) and the middle body (mammal body), splits the two with a metaphysical violence that re-unites them in a new bodily aggregate – a body capable of reading in secularly spiritual way.