I came across an interesting post, Painting fakes, on one of my usual Web haunts, Seth’s blog. I won’t repeat the story. You can go over and read it yourself — it’s pretty short. Let’s just say it ends with Picasso saying, “I often paint fakes.” (He’s referring to his own work.)
Some of the blog posts that were linked to the story were just as interesting as the original post. It seems some are keen on figuring out what Picasso meant by the comment. (And wondering, too, what Seth intended in posting it.)
I found that odd as it struck me as kind of obvious, but perhaps it’s not. To me the story is connected to Sturgeon’s Law, which is, “90% of everything is crud.” (Theodore Sturgeon, 1918 – 1985). And I‘ve already written about this in Writing, inspiration and craft.
To me it‘s simply a reminder to do our best but don‘t expect to excel each time out of the gate. We may not intend to, but we end up churning out a lot of crap. But that‘s a necessary step if you want to get to the material that‘s gold.
In the Picasso instance, I imagine what he intended to convey was the idea that while he may paint 100 canvasses, maybe only 10 would be worthy of being called “a Picasso.” Of the other 90, many would have the look — the style and even the signature — of a Picasso, and they may be enough to satisfy some (who may be more interested in the name than the painting itself), but for him, Pablo Picasso, they wouldn’t have the quality, the indefineable something that make them “a Picasso.”
I would add, too, that the “90% of everything is crud” law is a dangerous one to get into your head because it is easy to misconstrue it as an excuse to get lazy and crank out junk because, “Well, a large portion will be crud anyway.” That road leads to mediocrity where even your best is merely passable.
I’ll wrap up by saying that having worked as a writer and editor for so long, I now appear to have the ability to generate material that is pretty good, pretty skilled and informed. Yet along with that ability is the awareness that while some material may satisfy some, to me it is simply so-so. I don‘t necessarily have the ability to make it better; but I do know it needs something more. And I also know that in many cases if I want to be lazy and have lowered standards, I could probably get it approved with only me being aware that is unlikely to do what it needs to do.
So … I’ve been longwinded again but to me, that’s what Picasso was intending. For many people, some paintings may have been good enough to call Picassos. But to Pablo Picasso, some were fakes that he himself had painted. They were fakes because, yes, he had literally painted them and, yes, they looked like Picassos, but, to Pablo Picasso, no. They simply were not good enough to be known as Picassos.