Modern man has access to the art treasures of the past in an "imaginary museum," and the twentieth-century artist has the most varied, indeed, the most contrasting stylistic means at his disposal. Unlike the old masters whose formal language—for all their—artistic freedom in regard to details—was the end product of various religious, social, and local traditions, and whose choice of means was largely predetermined, the modern painter has almost unlimited possibilities of choice. Weak natures are for that reason exposed to the great danger of learning numerous skills without truly mastering any of them. On the other hand, artists of the rank of Picasso, who change everything they touch into gold, are enabled to achieve greater scope and mastery than any artist of the past. As we shall see, Picasso has always made abundant use of all historical styles: he has often sought inspiration in the treasures of the past, motivated by an inner need of which he is frequently unaware. Otherwise he could not so easily have assimilated the accomplishments of others. To be sure, his own inventions in the realm of form far exceed his borrowings. But like all inventions, these were not created out of nothing. Whatever he discovered had always existed before him; but one had to have eyes to see it, and of course also the necessary imagination to improve it.
Picasso's virtuosity in the simultaneous use of completely different stylistic means is part of the essence of his art. The value of any of his works does not depend on its style: what matters is the experience captured in it. In each instance the artistic form is dictated by an actual experience, a contact with the outside world. In this chapter we shall illustrate Picasso's great range of stylistic means and his complete mastery of them by a comparative study of some of his works, beginning with still life compositions.
The oblong chalk drawing of 1919, reproduced on page 78, shows a pitcher, a dish of apples, and next to the bowl a single fruit on a table surface against a neutral background. At first glance the stylistic ideal embodied here appears to be one of extreme plasticity. The violent contrasts between light and shadow serve primarily to model the vessels and the apples. Particularly the squat form of the pitcher and the