THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL ORIGINS OF MODERN ART (Chapter 10)

One of the immediate consequences of the ‘June 7, 1909 incident’ on the School of Paris was the sudden obsession of its members with geometry. The problem was that geometric painting involved the use of the ruler and the compass, which was disgusting to the Cubists. (The previous year Robert Delaunay had had an accident while experimenting with a compass and was still limping.) Matisse stated that he was able to draw a circumference of 7 yards radius without resorting to a compass but, in his attempt to prove it, he wound up lost far from home. (He was found three weeks later wandering aimlessly through the Black Forest.) As a result, the Cubists decided to rule out the curved line as too dangerous and focused their artistic efforts on the straight line. However, the straight line also had its shortcomings, such as its tendency to infinity. Juan Gris, the Spanish cubist, did not believe that a canvas, no matter how large it was, could accommodate infinity. Braque disagreed, but his colleagues strictly forbade him any attempt to prove his theory, so he had to settle for painting a 12-inch straight line. “Straight Line Cut Short” was sold to a Swiss collector for 12,000 francs, but it was found that the line painted by Braque experienced a 5 degrees deflection, so he had to return the money and shorten the line by 7 inches. But such a short straight-line was unlikely to find a buyer, and the Cubists didn’t want to hear about the possibility of using a ruler. Then Picasso pointed out the possible influence of color on length. According to him, a blue straight-line could reach a length greater than a red one. Max Jacob rejected this speculation as “ridiculous”, and Picasso was enraged and smashed Jacob’s brand-new monocle.

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