Nine or so years ago, when I spent my afternoons drawing with disadvantaged learners, I showed them an image of the Picasso’s “Old Guitarist.” Barely more than a child myself, at the time I was still shell-shocked by the economic realities of the “real world.” The students did not speak much English, and I did not speak much Xhosa, but I liked the guitarist because he was also impoverished, and his physical description defied the historical expectation of who “should” be poor.
But laughing, singing students weren’t interested in that analysis. They turned the painting on its side and refused to believe it was meant to be upright, delivering to their instructor what was probably one of the most profound lessons in life and art I have ever experienced. In a single instant of a simple gesture, the man went from downtrodden and hopeless to relaxed, almost happy, as though he did not have a care in the world… simply singing his song.
There’s so much that could be examined from that day, about why they and I saw the painting as we did. I don’t think about it as intensely as I could. Instead, I let the memory drift among lazy lulabies, carried along by the dances of youth and the wistful plucks of an old guitarist.