The Matisse-Picasso rivalry is more than just the great artistic competition of the 20th century. It's a scheme for dividing all art into two parts. Side by side, a Matisse and a Picasso can look amazingly similar. Yet at a deeper level, they are fundamentally, radically incompatible. Although it's possible to admire both artists, something impels you to choose sides. At the end of the day, everyone is either a Matisse person or a Picasso person.You can read the rest here, including the list where Weisberg breaks down contemporary culture [Hetero: Matisse. Homo: Picasso.] And here's the followup, with examples from readers, including some from an early version of my online self (bonus points on the quiz below for guessing which one is mine).
...Matisse is a cool, calm, Northern European artist. Picasso is a hot, temperamental Spaniard. Matisse famously said that a painting should be like a comfortable armchair. His paintings are harmonious, luxurious, and soothing. Picasso can virtually copy a Matisse tableau without producing anything like the same effect. In his rendition, the same fruit on a pedestal contains an element of dissonance, disturbance, and even violence. Where Matisse is sensuous, Picasso is sexual. Matisse loves fabric. Picasso loves flesh.
The division seems like a version of the one drawn by Friedrich Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy between Apollonian and Dionysian art. The Apollonian comes from the Greek god Apollo, the god of light, who was associated with rationality and its subspecialties law, medicine, and philosophy. The Dionysian comes from Dionysius, the god of wine and fertility, who was worshipped with drunken orgies in the woods at which nonparticipants were ripped to pieces. The Apollonian spirit is one of measure, reason, and control; the Dionysian is one of abandon, irrationality, and ecstatic release. The clash between the two principles was what produced Greek tragedy, according to Nietzsche. That Matisse is essentially an Apollonian artist and Picasso a Dionysian is evident even from the backhanded compliments they paid each other. Matisse called Picasso "capricious and unpredictable." Picasso described Matisse's paintings as "beautiful and elegant."
When you talk about the punk/hippie divide, I'm not even sure which falls into which category. I'm tempted to say punk is more about rules, which makes it Apollonian and therefore Matisse, while hippie is about letting it all hang out, so Dionysian and Picasso, but then punk is aggro while hippie is mellow, which would seem to mean the opposite.
Bah. While you ponder all this, here's a quiz:
Please choose one:
For extra credit, which of these pairs did I come up with, in the follow-up article from Slate? Hint: I didn't use my own name, so don't worry about that.