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The Success and Failure of Picasso

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  472 ratings  ·  49 reviews
   At the height of his powers, Pablo Picasso was the artist as revolutionary, breaking through the niceties of form in order to mount a direct challenge to the values of his time. At the height of his fame, he was the artist as royalty: incalculably wealthy, universally idolized−and wholly isolated.
   In this stunning critical assessment, John Berger−one of this century's
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 30th 1993 by Vintage (first published 1965)
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May 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, art

Picasso was still alive when Berger wrote this book. He had already been a legend for decades, and his works were selling for amounts that seemed to Berger obscene, to us now, quaint. Berger doesn't use the term "celebrity" but he might as well. Picasso has an entourage of acolytes and flatterers. Already right after WWII he was able to buy a chateau with the proceeds from one still-life.

Critically, Picasso was a child prodigy. When he was 14, Picasso's father, an art teacher, gave him his palet
Paul Bryant
Oct 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Classic comment that I remember from this book was where Berger pointed out that after a certain point in Picasso's life, if he wanted anything all he had to do was draw it. ...more
Nick Ziegler
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've had in a while. Berger's erudition and analytic acumen are sharp and wide-ranging, but the book is presented more as the notes of a learned man than a rigorous academic work. And this is good, because Berger manages to give us an entirely new appreciation of a familiar forest by presenting us with a provocative account of several of its most significant trees. That is to say, the book is not comprehensive; it is guided by its argument, not by an ...more
Morris Nelms
Mar 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I learned a lot about Picasso's way of painting from this book. The discussion of cubism is worth the whole thing, but the book has more to offer beyond that. ...more
Sep 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible book. John Berger's brain makes my brain go 🤯🤯 ...more
Nadiyah  Rizki
Sep 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
The only book I love-and-hate-read because I love Berger and hate Picasso.
Clayton HANSEN
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Great critique - well worth considering Bergers arguments on Picasso's contribution to world art and, what I found fascinating, the development of prodigious talent from childhood and how that might colour one's world view. ...more
Mar 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Berger delves into the variety of influences on Picasso's life and work, from the history of Spanish feudalism, bourgeois Europe, WWI &II, anarchy, physics, the rise of European industrialism, American capitalism, Communism, Cubism, the birth of Surrealism, and other fun-filled topics. He even gets around to Picasso's mistresses, too. ...more
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Success and Failure of Picasso
by John Berger

John Berger is perhaps best know for his trilogy ‘Into Their Labours’ and the novel ‘G’ but he was also a famous art critic and writer of the internationally acclaimed ‘Ways of Seeing’. In ‘Success and Failure of Picasso’ he gives his original vision of the ‘vertical invader’ Picasso.

John Berger describes Picasso as a “vertical invader” from Spain into France: “always he has subjected what he has seen around him to a comparison with what he brought
Jack M
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
After the Karl Ove Knausguaard Evard Munch debacle, I vowed never to read a book about art again.

One year later, I came across this quote about art from Berger in a Geoff Dyer essay: “Does this work help or encourage men to know and claim their social rights?" , and I thought, yes, that’s how it should be.

So when Berger’s name appeared heaped on a discounted pile just as the shrilling intro of Sketches of Spain filled the shop, well, you take your signs from the universe and go with it.

This wa
S Cearley
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A magnificent, as one would expect from Berger, critique of Picasso. It extends beyond the art Picasso created and into the world that shaped and exiled Picasso. Exile being another form of exceptionalism, as Berger points out. Picasso is unable to live the arc of a painter, continually growing, continually pushing, and is left creating works that shape and change and toil and react, but still don't quite reflect the artist within.

Constantly adored, constantly let down by the adorers (some inten
Jun 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
This book is the product of a small mind. I would imagine a malnourished peasant from Southern France two centuries ago would have thought about the same thoughts as Berger, without the self-important parts. Berger, like my imaginary mineral starved peasant, wants money. He has no idea how money is made. Or how an object acquires value. But I can almost hear Berger's drool hitting the floor when he has thought that Picasso can just draw any object he would like to own and poof! Picasso would be ...more
Apr 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Good perspective. I like the skeleton of main ideas. last chapter is very tragic of old age for the body, painting, sexuality. Picasso's autobiography as Berger wrote it, in final years. Picasso's failure of coming together with Marxist society and how this adds to his monolog mania. Berger understands Picasso through Nature against Culture(society),how "Unique" Spain fed him, how capitalism added and extracted from him, how he was a noble savage (Rousseau)....

and how old Picasso become a fun hi
Ben Bush
Jan 19, 2021 added it
Shelves: read-in-2021
Read this for a class with Geoff Dyer on John Berger. My dad's 1970s art professor said: "No one ever did more good paintings than Picasso because no one ever did more bad ones." One of the joys of this book is that it includes and discusses some of the worst Picasso paintings. One of Berger's strengths as a critic is to call a spade a spade. He also manages to make what is interesting about Picasso and his moment evident without dipping into hagiography. ...more
Ted Morgan
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Intriguing Marxist take on the great artist.
Gene Wayne
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A book that can change an opinion you've held all your life is a five star book. ...more
Chris Bertagnole
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Brief, but he makes his point!
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Lots of Marxist nonsense and not a lot of Picasso.
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sylvia Kaa
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must for everybody who loves art and doesn't mind understanding the ways the art market works. ...more
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I love picasso and I love this critical look at this work
Roz  Milner
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In an eloquent and insightful book-length essay, John Berger lays out his theories and critiques of Picasso, an artist almost everyone knows of but perhaps few seem to understand as deeply as Berger.

Essentially, Berger lays out how there were a couple periods where Picasso's art was truly extraordinary and redefined the rules of painting. Conversely, he also explains the times when Picasso's art was stale and lacking in inspiration. He does so through a deep analysis which ties together everythi
Oct 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
Berger presents a fair analysis that blasts blind adoration of Picasso. I understand this artist better that I would have predicted. His mindset was removed mostly from the social mechanisms of his time. His Spanish roots, particularly about duende (macabre look about spiritualism), cast him as a charmer, yet he stayed away from his homeland soon after his youth. A child prodigy, Picasso's father vowed never to paint again when viewing his 14 year old son's works. Pablo became an island. Only in ...more
Oct 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing

Rereading this ten years later to see how it holds up.
John Berger presents a profound analysis of
Picasso's paintings. He shows how Picasso's exile from Spain had a great influence on his painting. The major analysis by Berger is that Picasso was unlike most of his contemporaries. Whereas many painters view their lives through the works they created, Picasso was Picasso. He was viewed through a different prism. All his works were considered masterpieces because he was Picasso. People were afraid
Dec 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This 1989 edition of the book includes a brief intro by the author explaining the book's initial reception in 1965 when its subject was still living; and a third chapter written in the '80s, after Picasso's death. In a way a response to the ineffectual hagiography that surrounded Picasso, Berger, a Marxist, attempts to explain the artist as a product of his place (feudal, anarchistic Spain), his time, his personal isolation as an exile and deified celebrity. Berger shows how Picasso's style was ...more
Melanie Faith
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it
There is no doubt that this book is well-written and thoughtful. Yet, the prose is dense and sometimes felt like reading an extended term paper or thesis. Parts of this book were fascinating while others, I felt, got bogged down in analysis unrelated to Picasso's life. For readers who are interested just in learning more about Picasso, it might be a slog of a read; I'd recommend a biography instead. For readers who delight in art historian and social criticism vocabulary, then it might be an ide ...more
Feb 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Berger's aim in this book is to find where and how Picasso has succeeded in his art, and how he also has not. His is not as much the individual events of Picasso's life, but the evolution of his life and the effect of it and its developments on Picasso's art. I particularly liked that he gives background, history, and context to different periods, giving the information a richness and better understanding of Picasso's surroundings.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in having a better un
Feb 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
. . . still mulling it over . . .

It took me a long time to get through this book, even though Berger is one of my favorite writers. What Berger writes about Picasso is enlightening, perplexing, thought-provoking, annoying, spot-on, dead-wrong.

This is an incredible piece of work for anyone interested in Picasso, or more widely, what "makes" an artist.

I will likely read it again.
Jan 24, 2008 added it
Eye opening view of Picasso situated in social-cultural historical account that will allow you to reconsider Picasso and Cubism in particular.
Kenneth Smith
Aug 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Berger wrote this while Picasso was still alive. Quite interesting to read why this Marxist critic thinks the communist artist failed.
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John Peter Berger was an English art critic, novelist, painter and author. His novel G. won the 1972 Booker Prize, and his essay on art criticism Ways of Seeing, written as an accompaniment to a BBC series, is often used as a college text.

Later he was self exiled to continental Europe, living between the french Alps in summer and the suburbs of Paris in winter. Since then, his production has incre

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“ما من رسام آخر تمتع بذيوع الصيت هذا بين مثل هذا العدد الكبير من الناس.
إن التفسير التقني لذلك إنما يكمن في وسائط الإعلام الجماهيرية. فما أن يتم انتقاء شخص ما. لسبب أو لآخر، حتى تقوم هذه الوسائط بمضاعفة جمهوره من الألوف إلى الملايين. وفي حالة بيكاسو، عمل هذا التحول على تغيير ثقل شهرته. فهي ليست كشهرة ميليه في فرنسا أو ميليز في إنجلترا قبل ثمانين عاماً. فقد اشتهر هذان لأن لوحتين أو ثلاثًا من أعمالهما نالت حظوة سريعة لدى الجمهور، فاستنسخت عنها الصور وزينت بها ملايين البيوت. إن عنواني اللوحتين كرز الناضخ والملاك كانا أكثر ذيوعًا من اسم الرسام. أما إذا نظرنا إلى الموضوع على صعيد عالمي اليوم فإننا لا نجد أكثر من واحد في المئة ممن يعرفون اسم بيكاسو يستطيع أن يميز لوحة واحدة من لوحاته.”
“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge. It is worth comparing this famous text of Bakunin’s with one of Picasso’s most famous remarks about his own art. ‘A painting’, he said, ‘is a sum of destructions.” 1 likes
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