Creation Date: 1937
Size: 137.4 × 305.5 inch (349 × 776 cm)
Media: Oil on canvas
Location: Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
Despite all the hype surrounding it and despite all the work that went into making it (and Picasso put an enormous amount of work into it) the result is like a cheap wine served in an enormous glass.
First, the lack of color is not an expressive virtue—it was a lost opportunity. I have heard many people discuss the lack of color in this painting, not only as an expressive virtue, but as an expressive necessity. They have said that the subject matter was so tragic in nature that an image of this scene required a lack of color. This is simply nonsense intended to inflate the value of the painting by a common method: if a painting is famous and it contains A, then A is perfect. Artists have effectively used color for expressive ends with equally tragic subjects for centuries. If this extremely tragic subject requires a lack of color, then nothing would be lost and a great deal would be gained if all paintings of equally tragic subjects were stripped of their color.
The composition of this painting is not as wonderful as many would like to believe and it includes many elements which seem to have no compositional benefit. The oft heard praise for the (roughly) triangular composition falls on deaf ears with me as well considering how commonplace such compositions are.
The symbolism in the painting, such as the double-“lamp/eye” is painfully obvious to me. I don’t mind obviousness in principle, but obviousness without subtley is a recipe for boredom. This is a painting ripe for art-writers who read too much into every detail and object included in famous paintings simply because they are famous.
The aesthetic (that is, philosophical) problem with this painting—and most of Picasso’s work--is that the efficacy of the work as art is greatly diminished by adherence to the cubist approach. The cubist approach itself has no aesthetic value. The integration between the style and the subject is so awkward in this painting that the result is a barely-concretized glimmer of meaning amidst countless visual distractions. There are works of art which have multiple layers of meaning and there are works of art which have one layer of meaning buried in meaninglessness. Guernica is one such painting.