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Creativity vs Personality
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May 07, 2008, 03:48 PM
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Here`s Picasso`s 1943 sculpture Bull`s Head, which H.W. Janson`s standard college textbook on art history uses in the introduction to illustrate the concept of "creativity."

"Now let us look at the striking Bull`s Head by Pablo Picasso (fig. 2), which seems to consist of nothing but the seat and handlebars of an old bicycle. ... Of course, the materials Picasso used are fabricated, but it would be absurd to insist that he must share the credit with the manufacturer, since the seat and handlebars in themselves are not works of art.

"While we feel a certain jolt when we first recognize the ingredients of this visual pun, we also sense that it was a stroke of genius to put them together in this unique way, and we cannot very well deny that it is a work of art."

Okay, but the thought that occurred to me in art history class in 1979 was this: "Why does everybody assume this was `unique?`"

I would guess that more than a few people preceded Picasso in coming up with the idea of, and then carrying out, connecting handlebars and seat to imitate a bull`s head. It`s the kind of thing my dad came up with every year or two while puttering around in the garage. Maybe he got the idea of assembling two things to look like an animal from Picasso, but I really doubt it. I suspect lots of folks` dads came up with a bicycle seat and handlebars Bull`s Head before Picasso did.

If somebody came up with proof that, say, a Bulgarian bicycle repairman created basically the same thing in 1927, would that render Picasso`s 1943 version valueless? Would Janson take out Picasso`s Bulls Head and put in a picture of the repairman`s Bull`s Head as the exemplification of artistic creativity?

Yeah, right.

Something that`s frequently overlooked about art history is that there has to be a "story." That, say, Bull`s Head was independently discovered/created in, say, Bulgaria in 1927, in Uruguay in 1930, in Siam in 1931, and so forth, isn`t a good story. It`s just a bunch of random stuff that (hypothetically) happened.

That Picasso from Spain, the land of bullfighting, an artistic genius obsessed with masculine vitality, who had prominently painted a bull`s head in his famous Guernica, one day looked at some junk from an old bicycle and realized that he could create a bull`s head from two everyday objects ... now that`s a story!