The painting that as selected for this interpretation is “The old man with guitar” by Picasso. In the most simplistic form of analysis or presentation, one could state that it is literally an image of an old man holding a guitar. However, such an image could be presented in many different ways to represent any number of meanings. It is therefore necessary to interpret the seven elements of the painting to reach a better understanding of this particular piece of art. This interpretation will show that the painting shows the importance of internal music through a discussion of the painting with regard to the elements of the gaze, color, light, lines, space, objects, and body language.
One way that the artist portrays meaning in the subject is through allowing the viewer to see what the subject is seeing. This element goes beyond viewing the direct of the eyes to following the eyes and understanding what the artist wants the viewer to know about the subject’s state of mind. In “The old man with guitar,” the old man’s eyes are actually closed. His gaze is not aimed towards anything in the image or in a real environment. He is not looking to anything in the world to provide him with an image that defines his emotions. The viewer must look within the subject rather than in his same direction.
Colors are the first thing that is usually noticed about a painting. Colors determine the placement of a piece as well as the emotional response that the viewer has to the subject. In the selected painting, the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the brown guitar. Although the neck of the guitar is much darker and fades into the background, the colors work together to show the dimness of the background. Brown would not typically be considered as a bright color but against the greys and washed out colors of the setting and the subject, the brown color appears to be the only thing with life in the painting.
It is then important to recognize the flow of the painting based on what is highlighted and where this focus begins. This can change from side to side or between the subjects based on where the light source begins and ends. The light source in “The old man with guitar” comes from the right side of the image and fades to the left where the image goes nearly completely dark. The old man’s head is faced down but pointed towards the light. He is only shadowed by the guitar in his hands which shows not shadowing on its body at all. This makes it appear that the old man, along with his guitar, are heading towards the light without physically moving.
Lines in a painting show movement and emotion. While some lines are implied and help to guide the viewer’s eyes, others are static and therefore can be interpreted based on a generally accepted guideline for analyzing artwork. For instance, the room where the subject is sitting has jagged and uneven lines. From what would appear to be an edged baseboard to the horizontal impressions in the paint on the walls. However, there is a relatively solid horizontal line that moves the viewer’s eyes towards the light source and differentiates between the bottom and the top of the wall. The circular, smooth lines of the body of the guitar show the importance of the object to the overall meaning of the painting while the solid diagonal lines of the guitar’s neck show the instability of the subject’s state of mind when holding the neck as well as the movement that is taking place internally.
The placement of objects in the painting lets the reader know what is important to the image and where the artist wants the viewer to focus. If an object or subject is placed beneath another, one could assume an inferior status. However, in “The old man with guitar,” there is no significant difference between the height of the old man and the guitar. The guitar is positioned slightly in front of the old man but this is a common position for playing the instrument. The guitar is resting on the man’s legs while his hands are resting on the guitar. This indicates a mutually beneficial relationship between the two whereas the guitar cannot make music without the man and the man cannot play the music without the guitar. It is impossible to assert that either is more relevant based on the spacing and placement of the object and subject which leads the interpretation towards a common state of importance.
Objects add to the connection between the viewer and the subject of the painting. There are two notable objects in the selected painting that help to tell the old man’s story. The first of these is his shirt. The shoulder is torn from the sleeve. The jagged threads show that this tear did not occur intentionally as through a cut but rather that the old man likely snagged the shirt on something as he was trying to move about. The tear allows the viewer to see the boniness of the old man and further emphasize his age and condition. The second is more obviously the guitar which is somewhat personified in the title as a secondary subject in its own right. However, for the purpose of viewing it as an object, one must look closely to see that the guitar is inoperable as there are no strings. In fact, the guitar is more of a shell as is the old man based on the view through the torn shoulder of his shirt.
Just as body language can say much more than words, the same is true in a painting. The old man is slumped in the floor with one side of his body leaning towards the light and the other side holding to a broken guitar. His hand on the body of the guitar is loosely touching the instrument while the hand on the neck, the darker brown, is clutching to the guitar. It’s as if his arm, despite the torn shirt and slumped composure, has maintained enough strength to embrace this instrument or as if the instrument is somehow holding him up. He is weak but he is still holding on.
The image provides so many details about the old man and his relationship with the guitar. He is looking down as if he is beaten but, inside his closed eye gaze, the viewer can see that he is listening to the music. Of course, by looking closely at the objects, one can see that the music is not coming from the instrument but rather from within the man’s mind. Perhaps his memory of the music is what is allowing him to rest in the light. The guitar is a significant object as it brings the viewer into the old man’s thoughts and lets them know that he is lost in the music of his own mind. However, the guitar is not the primary subject. Instead, the man and the strength that he draws from the guitar provides significant insight as to how important music is to one’s own interpretation of the world around them. Even in a chaotic dark room, the old man could clutch a guitar and “hear” music that drew his weakened body into the light.