Between the Lines: November-December 2009

November 30, 2009

 

One of this semester's campus highlights, for those interested in the interplay of images and words, is "Picasso and the Allure of Language" at the Nasher Museum of Art. As the exhibition catalogue points out, throughout a lifetime of friendships with writers, Picasso developed an appreciation for—and a mastery of—language, both visual and verbal, and how it created meaning.

In an essay in the catalogue, Patricia Leighten, professor of art, art history & visual studies at Duke, draws an association between Picasso's evolution into Cubism and Gertrude Stein's "Steinian ambiguities" as a writer. (For many years the Steins were Picasso's principal patrons in Paris.) Stein, Leighten writes, rejected narrative structure or dramatic highlights, "treating objects, events, and persons in a value-neutral, undifferentiated way and deliberately stressing ambiguity rather than clarity." Stein presents the reader with "a complex intermingling of thoughts that dissolve into each other to form an unbroken rhythmic stream."

Picasso, in turn, presents a close visual equivalent to Stein's "disinterested" prose. Objects are suggested rather than finished, for example; they morph into a confusing mass of solids and voids. Light enters the canvas from every direction. There are multiple or simultaneous viewpoints.

With this issue, Duke Magazine showcases a new visual viewpoint. Under the design oversight of Maxine Mills for some fourteen years, the magazine gained remarkable visual energy and excitement—even as it sustained a solidity and elegance appropriate to an academic setting. The new designer, Lacey Chylack, has a long association with Duke, having worked on books and websites as well as magazines and three-dimensional projects. As this issue demonstrates, she has a talent for weaving together words and images artfully and meaningfully.