I’m with you, almost completely. None of the artists you mentioned rings the bell for me, least of all Godard (whom I’ve always thought to be wildly overrated). As for Picasso, I said my say about him when I reviewed the Museum of Modern Art’s “Matisse Picasso” show for The Wall Street Journal:
In the visual arts, the race has always been between Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and Picasso has always been the front-runner. Certainly Americans, with their puritan distrust of beauty, have typically favored his relentless experimentation to Matisse’s less obviously innovative stylistic pilgrimage. Even now, Picasso’s paintings look modern to the least tutored eye–you can’t help but come away from them secure in the knowledge that you’ve been challenged with a capital C–whereas it is perfectly possible to skate happily atop Matisse’s luscious, angst-free surfaces without feeling the slightest need to come to grips with the existential problem of…well, anything. (That’s why Picasso’s “Guernica,” which wears its antiwar message like a bumper sticker, is far better known than any Matisse painting. It’s modern art for modernists who don’t like art.)
Rarely has an artist done more harm to his own reputation than Matisse did when he declared that he wanted his work to serve as “a kind of cerebral sedative as relaxing in its ways as a comfortable armchair,” a remark as subtle and misleading as T.S. Eliot’s observation that Henry James had “a mind so fine no idea could violate it.” You have to think hard about it to understand how profound it is, just as you have to look hard at Matisse’s paintings to see how radically original they were, and are….
Picasso’s painting is the work of a spiritual contortionist who twists the visible world into angry patterns that betray his interior fury; Matisse, the disciplined sybarite, tells us instead of his joy.
My Dickens problem, on the other hand, vexes me. I know I’m missing something good, and can’t seem to find a way around it (whereas I’m perfectly happy to be deaf to whatever good there is in the music of Wagner). Maybe you can set me straight.
Obviously I now need to up the ante by making a confession of significantly higher voltage. So, um…well…how about this? I wouldn’t lose a bit of sleep if all the German paintings in the world vanished first thing tomorrow morning. Poof.
Top that, you piker.