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Cubism: Flattening Time and Space
When approaching the canvas, it’s often a habit to depict the world as you perceive it. Check out Groupon’s guide to Cubism to explore one unusual way to broaden your perspective.
A Cubist painting might resemble a pile of puzzle pieces at first—and in some ways, that’s exactly what it is. A transformative way of rendering three-dimensional reality onto a two-dimensional plane, Cubism combines multiple perspectives of its subject into one simultaneous picture. A cubist interpretation of a coffee can, for instance, might include a view of the circular opening from above, the ridges reflecting light off the sides, the body flattened into a rectangle, and the bottom as another circle. In dissecting objects this way, Cubists did away with the preoccupation of mimicking a certain “natural” viewpoint, which would have rendered the opening of the can an oval and the bottom invisible. In the same way as a person understands an object over time by altering their relative position to it—turning it in their hands or doing cartwheels around it—Cubists provide more visual information by joining different slices of time and space.
It’s impossible to talk about Cubism without talking about Picasso, just as with relativity and Einstein or love and Barry White. Less of a household name is the movement’s cocreator, Georges Braque. These two luminaries independently stumbled upon the same painting principles in the first decade of the 20th century, then came together to flesh out and evolve the form. Common motifs ranged from earlier deconstructed still lifes painted with a limited palette to later, more-colorful portraits made with large, swooping shapes.
The term Cubism itself seems to have been coined not by either of these painters but by French art critic Louis Vauxcelles, after seeing some of Braque’s landscapes in 1908—full of twisting, abstracted trees and jagged outcroppings of earth. In these new forms, Vauxcelles saw only “bizarreries cubiques,” or “cubic oddities.”