The Picasso Exhibit: Art As Courage

By Alex Iwashyna, blogger at

La Celestina

I attended the Picasso exhibit for the media extravaganza at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on February 17, which mostly consists of muffins and awkward conversations. And a disappointing lack of blue or one-eyed media personalities.

However, walking through 10 rooms of 176 painting by Picasso is breathtaking. The last time I was with so many pieces from one artist, was either the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam or my family room after a summer of Romp n’ Roll camp.

The rooms are designed on linear time line, yet Picasso is not. A blue-period painting appears in the first room and decade. And after entering a room where Picasso has reduced life to indefinable abstraction, I step into the next decade and a room of vivid realism.

He invented an entirely new language of art through Cubism paving the way for many artists to find their voices. We weren’t allowed to hug his paintings but I think that I left my jaw on the floor in room seven.

He works in so many mediums and with so much vitality and courage, I want to yell: Me, too. I want this!

As a writer, I often fear moving outside my niche. My abilities. Moving beyond what I know or what others believe or support or publish. I might lose readers or jobs or my reputation.

I begin writing as a poet who occasionally dabbled in short stories. When two poems are published, I write my mentor and he responds: Congratulations. And don’t stop writing poems.


Stop? Why would I stop? But in the excitement, I slow down. I’m a published poet! And paralyzed with the fear of never being published again. The thirty subsequent reject letters do NOT help my motivation, but I listen what my mentor said and keep carving out time for poetry. Less and less time.

And I do not write a single word during my second pregnancy save emails complain about how sick I am for 8 of 9 months. But when my next child is born, the hunger to write returns as well.

But I can’t write poems anymore. I can’t carve out the space in my life and in myself to get into the me, which sees the world sideways and through a lens of rhythm and metaphor.

But I can write about being a mom. Or about being a wife. Or being a woman. Or a liberal. Or a jerk. Or a lonely person on a big planet. I can see still that.

The Goat

So I sit down and began my blog, Late Enough, and I discover that I can write humor. I’m surprised because my fiction is never funny. But my real life? Hilarious.

However, even today, when blogging and writing and teaching opportunities seem to appear in my email faster than I can say awesome sauce, I often sit at my keyboard afraid. Afraid to write a serious piece when I’ve gotten accolades for my humor. Afraid to write something frivolous when a piece I wrote earlier changed someone’s perspective.

I don’t want to make mistakes. I don’t want to use the wrong medium to express myself.

When I walked from room to room surrounded by the breath of Picasso’s work, I am reminded that my life doesn’t need to be linear. My work doesn’t need to fit into tiny boxes of motherhood, marriage, writer, liberal, feminism, cat lady with a feet phobia and the inability to stop writing.

My life can be as big as I let it.

About the Exhibition:

  • TITLE: Picasso: Masterpieces from Musée National Picasso, Paris
  • ORGANIZER: Musée National Picasso, Paris
  • DATES: Feb. 19, 2011 – May 15, 2011. VMFA is open seven days a week.
  • CURATOR: Anne Baldassari, Chairman, Musée National Picasso, Paris
  • ITINERARY: Athenaeum Art Museum, Helsinki; Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Seattle Art Museum; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. One additional non-US venue is yet to be announced.
  • ADMISSION: $20; Admission is free for VMFA members and children ages 6 and under. Discounts are available at $16 for seniors 65+, students with ID, groups 10+, and ages 7–17.
  • CATALOG: Full color, 272 pp, 193 illustrations
  • SPONSOR: Altria Group is the presenting sponsor. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.


  1. Putting yourself out there, baring your soul and letting yourself be judged by what is often the cruel whims of the public , either through the written word or other works of art takes incredible bravery. I commend both Mr. Picasso and Ms Iwashyna for their courage. More of us should do so…

  2. I had very similar feelings when I visited this exhibit. I felt the installation was creative, all by itself, because of just what you described in the 3rd paragraph above. It was an awesome experience, and your reflections upon it are spot on.

    Congratulations on having a mentor, and being published, all while being a great Mom!

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