In today's world, we know that choosing to break away from conventions either leads to great success or great failure. Oftentimes, people question how their ideas will be received by the rest of the world. This self doubt and fear of rejection leads people to stop in their tracks and abandon ideas that could have been revolutionary. In 1907, Pablo Picasso chose to stray from conventions to pursue an artistic style no one was familiar with. Aware of the negative reaction his new work would receive, Picasso chose to keep it out of the public eye by storing it and revising it in his studio. Picasso was right in his precaution. Months later, he stood before patrons, fellow artists and art critics in his Paris studio as he presented them with an eight foot canvas of a work that was nonetheless controversial. Unwelcomed, the new painting hit the art world and instantly received negative reactions. Patrons were shocked as they had never seen anything like it. Critics were appalled by how "rough" the painting looked. Even fellow artists such as Matisse deemed this work as the "death of painting." However, those that chose to criticize the painting were not aware of the influence it would soon have on the art world. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was the birth of a style that is considered to be the most influential art movement of the 20th century.
Picasso is oftentimes referred to as the "father of cubism." Cubism, a style that breaks up and reassembles objects in order to present them in an abstract and multi perspective form, was born out of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. As viewers observe the painting, the shard-like pieces abandon the one point perspective to allow viewers to move through the painting. Apart from his controversial attempt to depict varying perspectives, Picasso also chose to make the subjects of the painting five prostitutes in a brothel on Avignon Street in Barcelona, hence the name of the work. Picasso produced multiple sketches prior to finalizing this piece, illustrating the meticulous process behind the creation of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Before the five life-sized prostitutes came about on the canvas, one of them was a depiction of a medical student holding a textbook and skull as he walked into the brothel. It is believed that the skull in this context was meant to symbolize that "the wages of sin are death." The prostitutes give an alternative view of the world, one that Western society attempted to reject. The sexual freedom and "immoral" subject matter was interpreted as Picasso's attempt to break away from tradition, and he succeeded in doing so.
It is believed that the painting is influenced by both African totem art and Iberian sculpture, creating a sort of unexpected contrast. The two women on the right are depicted with African masks on. At the start of the 20th century, the French Empire began to expand into Africa and African artifacts were brought to Parisian museums. Picasso drew from the African art that he had seen in museums in order to create the faces of these female figures. The three women on the left are depicted as having the faces of Iberian sculptures. It is believed that Picasso dabbled in collecting these Iberian sculptures, which originated from Spain and Portugal. The multi-cultural depiction allowed Picasso to abandon the naturalism that was a fundamental aspect of Western art since the Renaissance.
By removing the sensualism from nudity and attempting to depict a different dimension, Picasso broke from convention. He replaced the sensualism of Western art at the time with crude representations of the alien and relatively unknown. Picasso once said, "For me there are are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats." Perhaps, this painting was Picasso's attempt to convey his perspective on women. Nonetheless, his turn on tradition went down in history.