Although there are several biographies of Picasso for young readers, none reveals the massive contradictions within him that were so much a part of his art as well as Lyttle’s study. The book is an honest portrayal of an artistic genius who was not necessarily a good person. He was driven to express himself through art just as he was, apparently, driven to sleep with an endless string of women. Picasso is shown to be an excellent representative of Sigmund Freud’s theories of artistic expression and how they are tied to sexual desires.
As Lyttle states in the brief introduction, the book is an attempt to show the complexity of the individual in the hopes of beginning to understand the complexity of his work. While detailing the facts, Lyttle dispels the myths about Picasso. For example, he points out that Picasso did not, as was later said, begin life by gasping from the cigar smoke from his father’s brother. The author goes beyond simple factual correctness, however, to a constant probing of Picasso’s psyche and personality. He finds possible stimuli for the genius to come even in Picasso’s childhood, suggesting that Don José, Picasso’s father, exhibited the daring to experiment in his own artwork, perhaps passing this love on to Picasso. Lyttle suggests that Picasso found the art discussions between his father and other artistic friends “fascinating,” claiming that Picasso’s parents “knew at once that their son was a prodigy.”
In this way, the biography, though accurately reporting the facts of his life, becomes far more interesting as an exploration of Picasso’s mind—his personality traits (some of which can be seen even at a young age), his love of bullfights, his distaste for school, and his compulsion to draw. The book explains how he was able to absorb the many movements in art, bring them...
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Lyttle’s study is aimed at young adults and is well suited to this audience. While the book contains a bibliography, this section is not intended for scholars but for beginning students of Picasso’s work. While Lyttle’s biography offers discussions of Picasso’s accomplishments and places them in the context of artistic developments at the time, it is intended not as detailed art criticism but as a basic overview of artistic trends and techniques. While the book is truthful in its descriptions of Picasso—his personality, his relations with others, and his faults—it is not a graphically blunt exploration of the dark side of his psyche but an honest indication of the forces that drove his creativity.
Critics have given Lyttle’s book positive reviews, praising its scrutiny of “Picasso’s turbulent, brutal relationships with women”; “its integration of a great deal of information on Picasso’s life, work, and times”; its “fascinating” details and clear descriptions; and its depictions of the “full range of contradictions that expressed themselves in the powerful and complex imagery that was Picasso.” By bringing to life such an important artist in an accessible but not patronizing manner, Lyttle offers an excellent opportunity for adolescents to be introduced to serious art and to the human struggle behind and within it.