Several artistic movements have occurred during different periods in history shaping the view and expression of literary forms. These movements influenced the artists during the earlier time and even today. The contribution of these movements to the artistic works found in the museum is important in trying to understand intricacies of life as passed down the generations through art. Cubism is one example of such artistic movements. It used geometry, passage and simultaneity while describing visual terms. Cubists analyze objects before breaking them up and reassembling them in an abstractive form. The aim of cubism is to present an object from more points of view and to a greater context. This paper discusses cubism as an art movement that existed in early 20th century and explains how cubism relates to Frost’s poem “Out, Out” and Mohamed Mughal’s novel Resolution 786.

The Origin of Cubism

The origin of cubism as an artistic movement is controversial among several artists associated with its beginning. Notable among these artists is Pablo Picasso whose 1906 works of painting are regarded as the first expressive works of cubism. The controversy then sets in trying to examine why Picasso’s work was not exhibited in the first exhibition of cubists in 1912. His work together with that of George Braque, who worked alongside the famous Les Demoiselles d'Avignon were not shown to the public until 1916. This made their influence in the movement limited. 

However, Picasso's work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) is considered as the first cubist painting in most of the literature about cubism. Cottington (6) argues that this literary association can be true especially because the work is known as the first to have used the three elements of cubism: geometricity, simultaneity and passage.

Other prominent art historians have expounded the controversy by their argument that George Braque’s works of L’Estaque, depicting landscapes, were the first recorded cubist painting in 1908. In fact, Braque is honored for originating the word cubism from his L’Estaque work. The work has been described by art critic Louis Vauxcelles as nothing but “cubes”. Vauxcelles description of this work is important because he presided over the Salon d’Automme event as a jury where Braque’s L’Estaque was shown in 1908. This seems to be the basis on which Cottington (6) argues that Braque’s L’Estaque influenced the use of the term Cubism and identification of a particular style while Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon inspired the principles and ideas behind cubism in later years. Similarly, cubism can be controversially described as either gallery cubism or salon cubism depending on where the cubists were displaying their work.

Principles of Cubism

As argued above, Cubism originated as an idea then became a style. As an idea, cubism depended on three main elements of geometry, simplicity, and passage. All these were instrumental in its attempt to represent a fourth dimension. It is also important to note that cubism majorly originated from painting before spreading to other artistic forms like music and literature. This fact will be specifically important when analyzing Frost’s poem “Out, Out.”

Characteristics of Cubism

Cubism exhibits a number of characteristics that help it to be distinguished from other forms of art. Geometricity means simplification of objects while allowing for approximation of the fourth dimension. Cubism also follows conceptual as opposed to perceptual frameworks in representing reality. Other characteristics are distortion and misrepresentation of forms in a natural world. Additionally, passage allows for overlap and interpenetration of planes. Finally, simultaneity allows different points of view to be presented together.

Cottington observes that cubism builds on a kind of realism that aims at depicting the world on a “as it is” basis as opposed on “as it seems” basis (12). This lays an important distinction of cubism as a form of art movement because other movements also tried to represent their ideas alongside cubism. The idea was simple; things will always remain the way they appear in reality irrespective of our illusions and imaginations. A classical example in this case is the well-known closed eyes and the cup. Cubism argues that the mouth of the cup will always remain to be round whether an artist is looking at the cup or imagining that cup.

According to cubists, it is not artistically acceptable for cubists to try and represent the mouth of the cup as rectangular in the name of art when the public knows that the mouth of the cup is always round. Thus, cubism views any attempt of representing objects in none reality forms as falsehood and illusion. As such, cubism casts aspersion on the artistry of well-known works such as the mermaid drawing representing a young woman with a fish tail. Strictly speaking, cubism can be considered as a conceptualized realism rather than a perceived method.

Timeline for Cubism as a Movement

According to Gersh-Nesic (2), cubism started in early 20th century in a period that is known as Cezannisme and ranges from 1908 to 1910. This is the period of Picasso and Braque formulating the ideas of cubism. Analytic cubism is a period between 1910 and 1912. The artists who represented that period were Juan Gris, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, and Fernand Léger. This period is credited with changing European painting, music, literature, and architecture. The final period is the Late Cubism that runs from 1917 to present day. However, it is agreeable that the height of Cubism peaked at the end of the World War, a number of artists continued with synthetic cubism well into the late 20th century. For instance, Jacob Lawrence work Makeup of 1952 is a good depiction of how synthetic cubism was carried into the late 20th century. Lawrence died in 2000 aged 83 years.

Cubism and Frost’s Poem “Out, Out”

“Out, Out” falls under cubism because of the characteristics it reveals. For instance, simplification of buzz saw as snarling and rattling helps to build an image of a fourth dimension concerning the buzz saw. Frost notes “The buzz-saw then snarled and rattled in the yard” (1). This simplification of the buzz also used the geometricity characteristic of cubism in its attempt to present a wholly conceptualized picture to the reader of the poem.

Similarly, “Out, Out” fits in the description of cubism because of the imagery and personification styles that are used in it. These styles are used purposefully to bring out the conceptualized picture of the boy as he is wounded by the buzz saw and later dies. A reader of the poem, though having not perceived the pains of the boy, can easily conceptualize that situation through the words that the poet has used “And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled, / As it ran light, or had to bear a load” (Frost, 1). This representation can, therefore, bring out the reality of the poem to the reader close to a century after the poem was written.

Another factor that makes “Out, Out” related to the cubism movement is the overlapping and interpenetration in the poem that allows various interpretations. For instance, on the margin, the poem simply implies a boy who became the witness of the accident that leads to his death while undergoing treatment. However, a deeper meaning can be the political situations that continue to take away the lives of the innocent people, while those who are supposed to care for them continue with business, as usual.

Cubism and Mughal’s Resolution 786

The cubist writer, Mohamed Mughal, in his work Resolution 786 heavily uses cubism. Resolution 786 uses the characteristic of overlapping and interpenetration. This is true especially with the use of sources such as letters, poems, legal indictments and traditional narratives in passing the intended message. Such a use of numerous sources allows for a multiplicity of interpretation even from closely related readers. Similarly, Mughal’s characters exhume tendencies of existence through expression of emotions such as elation and despair.

Additionally, Resolution 786 diversified approach to culture and religion has the cubism element of conceptualization. Cubism comes out based on the fact that the writer does not only use incidences that the reader can identify with but also those that can only be conceptualized; such as cultural practices in other regions. In this regard, Mughal seems to have used cubism in Resolution 786 consciously because he is an accomplished cubist writer. However, cubism as an artistic movement continues to face challenges from other movements such as expression and confession (Mughal, 25).

Mughal captures and uses his artistic ability and employs paradox while reaching out to the reader. For example, in his description he stated "His seriousness made Becca rock with laughter, her head tilting back like it always did, her knees pulled slightly off the mattress, mouth thrown wide open, bellowing loud and riotous.” Apart from the above description bringing out the conceptualization of the whole incidents, it emphasizes the character of concept as an element of cubism.


From the above description and comparison, it is evident that cubism as an artistic movement has had a great impact on literature and music. However, the paper notes that some artists could use the principles of cubism in their works without knowing. All these facts point to the applicability of the cubism principles in the work of art.

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