Separation and Individuation in Picasso's Guernica1

By Attia, Ora | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Separation and Individuation in Picasso's Guernica1


Attia, Ora, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


A systematic, psychoanalytically oriented analysis of Picasso's preparatory studies for his master-painting Guernica as well as of his many alterations in the course of his work on the painting itself revealed a prominent concern with issues of attachment and of separation, differentiation and maturation, in association with loss, death and destruction. Background information on the circumstances of Picasso's work on the painting, his personality and his biography, as well as information gleaned from other of his works from various periods of his life were also taken into account. Integration of the direct findings from the analysis of Guernica's evolution and from this comprehensive background information suggests that the process of creating Guernica represents a symbolic attempt at individuation and establishment of separateness from the mother, by means of aggressive acts expressed towards representations of the mother figure in the painting. The preparatory studies and the painting itself are perceived as transitional objects.

Keywords: applied analysis, development, individuation, Picasso, creative process

Pablo Picasso's Guernica is a multifaceted, symbolically laden painting that has been addressed by many scholars, variously interpreted from artistic (e.g. Arnheim, 1962), moral, social-political (e.g. Daix, 1993) and psychological perspectives (e.g. Gedo, 1980, 1994; Hartke, 2000). Thus, the complexity of this masterpiece defies a single interpretation. The present study focuses on demonstrating the latent presence of Picasso's preoccupation with separation, and perceives the course of his work on the painting as a symbolic attempt to establish individuation.

Methodological considerations

Picasso produced and dated numerous preparatory studies before he began working on the painting itself and made many changes while working on the canvas, all in less than six weeks (May-June 1937). A systematic study of this entire output reveals his preoccupation with several deep emotional issues while consciously working to produce a mural painting portraying the victims of the atrocious massacre in the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. As will be elaborated herein, a prominent issue was Picasso's preoccupation with separation and the establishment of his individuation.

According to the basic principles of over-determination and multi-determination, any action the artist made while working on the painting can be perceived to manifest several themes and to have been the result of several different factors. Thus, in addition to separation and individuation, other issues preoccupied and influenced Picasso and found expression in his course of work on Guernica (Attia, 2007). Hence, rather than an attempt at an ultimate explanation of the painting, the aim in the present study is to highlight and demonstrate the existence of this one theme revealed by systematic analysis of the artist's course of work.

It is widely agreed that Picasso's oeuvre is autobiographical and expressive. His friend Hél ne Parmelin wrote of ''the total fusion . . . between the man and his creative function'' (Parmelin, 1963, p. 60). The exceptionally well-documented information on his life (biographies, diaries and acquaintances' memoirs [e.g. Brassa, 1964; Daix, 1993; Penrose, 1958; Richardson, 1991], as well as a systematic psychobiography [Gedo, 1980]) and analyses of his oeuvre (e.g. Cowling, 2002; Gedo, 1980) corroborates this. Moreover, Picasso himself was aware, at least to a degree, that his works were expressive as well as autobiographical: in his view ''a painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions'' (Barr, 1946, p. 273), thus ''the inner I is inevitably in my painting. . . . Whatever I do, it will be there'' (Parmelin, 1965, p. 106). In addition, he revealed that he paints ''the way some people write their autobiography'' (Gilot and Lake, 1964, p. 123), that for him ''a painting is not thought out and settled beforehand. …

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