Various others have provided philosophical interpretations of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. One such writer is Leo Steinberg in his “The Philosophical Brothel”, in which he provides the most influential interpretation of the painting that features five naked ladies. Steinberg tried to set the record straight for the often-misinterpreted work of art. His article takes a careful philosophical view of the painting and provides the reader with a new way to understand the artwork. The reading related to art historical writings, but brings in a new language and “voice” within it. He tries to unravel the demanding subject of Les demoiselles d’Avignon. Although there could be many more interpretations of the art in literature, Steinberg focuses on the subject of the painting, the need for more in-depth analysis to understand the painting, and a critique of the moral implications of the painting.
The subject of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon is one of the areas that Steinberg focuses on, right from the beginning of his article. The idea of prostitution emerges in the opening sentences of the article because of the naked subjects in Les demoiselles d’Avignon. The picture portrays nude ladies with figures made out of faces motivated by African covers and Iberian model. The reading brings about a significant concern relating to the subject of the article and the message that Picasso wanted to communicate to his audience by painting the figures nude. However, Steinberg does not limit himself in the interpretation, because the painting has a lot to communicate to the viewer. Evidently, the author wanted to understand and communicate the motivation behind the painting. He suggests that Picasso might have wanted to conceive the painting as a form of memento mori (Steinberg 11). However, he critiques the idea arguing from a perspective of moralistic contrast between vice and virtue. The reading indicates Steinberg’s claim that the picture has a lot to tell.
Another critical aspect of the reading is the critique of the numerous interpretations of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. Steinberg believes in the hidden and critical message of the drawing and a perspective that other authors appear to have missed. He believes that the picture contains more than its formal aspects that words are used to convey. He argues that a formal analysis of the picture is inadequate because it suppresses too much than the picture is intended to communicate. He also argues that no work of art engages the audience from a single perspective. Therefore, one should study the painting carefully and critically to understand the explicit and hidden meaning. Clearly, the painting is one of the most misunderstood because it lacks a direct message to the audience. For example, Steinberg suggests that the image maintains a strong rapport with Las Meninas that excludes the audience. Thus, the audience should struggle to find a place and understand the painting.
Another theme that emerges in the reading is sin and the evidence of evading morality and the pursuit of vice. Although many interpretations of the painting have emerged throughout its history, Steinberg appears to have realized the idea of sin that is evident. He argues that morality dropped in the course of the piece of art, making it “the most important single pictorial document that the 20th century has yet produced” (Steinberg 10). Regardless of its importance, it evades the question of morality. However, Steinberg avoid focusing solely on the morality aspect of the image. For example, he asks, “those five figures in it-did they have to be whores?” (Steinberg 11). The argument suggests that although morality is the first thing that comes to the mind when one looks at the painting, it is misleading to focus on that single interpretation without asking critical questions. Steinberg suggests that the morality idea is only one of the many analyses of the painting.
Steinberg critiques one of the most misunderstood, but widely interpreted piece of art, Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. He discusses his philosophical views of the image in the article, The Philosophical Brothel. The article is a critique of some of the interpretations of the painting, some of which he terms as narrow ways of understanding the painting. For example, he challenges those who view the image from a morality perspective because they miss out on the original intention of Picasso in painting Demoiselles d’Avignon. The author also suggests that the historical views of the painting might be ineffective in providing a clear view. For example, although historical interpreters could view the painting has having morality implications, the author challenges the viewer to consider other possible meanings, such as the claim that it is possible that the figures were not whores. Regardless, Steinberg praises modern critics of the painting for their craftsmanship because nothing is judged or barred insignificant as long as it communicates a message regarding the work of art. Furthermore, given that Steinberg is not going out evaluations, he avoids being judgmental until he achieves the goal of the work, which is his reaction to the painting. He challenges the audience to develop their understanding of the artwork.
Steinberg, Leo. “The philosophical brothel.” October 44 (1988): 7-74.