Picasso and Paul McCartney

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903
Did you know that a Picasso painting helped to inspire a Paul McCartney song? Today my little brother sent me this short clip of Paul explaining when/where/why he came up with the idea for the “Two Fingers” song:
I’m pretty sure, though, that Picasso didn’t have a specific chord in mind when he painted The Old Guitarist. In fact, it has already been discussed how Picasso’s lack of musical training is evident in his other depictions of musicians (for example, instances in which violinists hold their instruments with the wrong hand, as is seen in his Three Musicians (1921, PMA version)). Nonetheless, it’s fun to know that Picasso had a little influence on Paul.
  • Lutz Eitel says:

    As one would expect, Paul's got it all wrong. The old man of course would sound like this guy playing Nuages. (Sorry for the triple post, but now I think the link works.)

  • Benjamin (Ben) says:

    That's fun, and perhaps a nice example of a creative "misreading" on McCartney's part. I'm also a guitarist and honestly can't tell whether he's got one, two or three fingers pressed down. Or indeed whether he's even playing a chord, rather than (say) plucking a bass note with his thumb–which seems more likely given the position of his right hand.

    Of course, it has to be said that everything about his posture is unlikely (ow!). The body reads more as an expressive equivalent to the music he might be playing, and it's fun to imagine what that might sound like. Just as importantly, what might his voice sound like? Flamenco?

    We can add at least two other names to the list of musicians inspired by Picasso: Jonathan Richman and David Bowie. And there must be lots of others. See:

  • heidenkind says:

    I saw another interesting thing on Picasso the other day. What was it??? Oh, right, it was about Picasso and food! Here's a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LahHOWxSfuY

  • AdmGln says:

    Interesting. It's a pretty nice tune too.

  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments and links that people included! The Picasso and food link was quite interesting, heidenkind.

    It is interesting to think about what the Old Guitarist would be playing. I would imagine something that has a national/folk Spanish feel, but something more melancholic. Since there are so many downward lines within the painting (and the guitarist is looking downward), I can't help but think that the guitar might be a little out-of-tune (and have a "downward" emphasis by being flat!) Ha!

    And Obridge, I didn't know that David Bowie had a Picasso song. That's fun. Thanks for sharing.

  • Benjamin (Ben) says:

    It's Jonathan Richman's song. Bowie's covering it.

    On a related note, wasn't Wallace Stevens's wonderful poem "Man With the Blue Guitar" inspired by the painting? (Hockney made a book of prints based on the poem.) Here's the first verse:

    The man bent over his guitar,
    A shearsman of sorts. The day was green

    They said, "You have a blue guitar,
    You do not play things as they are."

    The man replied, "Things as they are
    Are changed upon the blue guitar."

    And they said then, "But play you must,
    A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

    A tune upon the blue guitar
    Of things exactly as they are."

  • Douglas says:

    Benjamin: Stevens actually name-drops Picasso in the poem. Also, are those hockney prints online anywhere?

  • M says:

    Obridge, thanks for including the poem. I've heard it before, but hadn't included it in my post. Isn't it fun?

  • e says:

    Very cool.

    It's amazing to me how in the last couple of years I've grown to REALLY love the Beatles while at the same time, really increased my love of art. Maybe there's a correlation there. 🙂

  • Simon Abrahams says:

    I was struck by the comment that Picasso's Guitarist was strumming with the wrong hand. That, in essence, is the same claim made of both Manet's The Spanish Singer and Courbet's The Cellist. Manet's is said to be using a right-handed guitar strung for a left-handed player; Courbet's Cellist is said to be using the wrong hand like Picasso's guitarist. All artists, though, are painting an image of their own mind and, since the mind, has long been described as the surface of a mirror, you only have to look at these paintings in a mirror to find that all the "problems" correct themselves. These aren't "real" musicians; they are images of the artist himself "creating art" in his own mind.

    Take a look at Manet's painting is interpreted at:

    I like the comments here. Very interesting.

    All the best,


  • H Niyazi says:

    I think I prefer Monty Pythons ruminations on Picasso!

    I'm struggling to think of a modern musician that really encapsulates art history in a broad sense.

    Film has Peter Greenaway, but I'm hard pressed to think of a musical equivalent(beyond Velvet Underground and the Warholian movement)


  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    e, I'm glad to see that your taste in art AND the Beatles have increased over the past few years. Glad to see that my influence is rubbing off on you. 🙂

    Simon, thanks for the comment! Your "every painter paints himself" idea is very interesting in regards to this piece. I enjoyed reading your Manet post – I don't know if I would have come up with a connection between Watteau and Manet on my own! Thanks for sharing.

    H Niyazi: I also can't think of a modern/contemporary musician that encapsulates art history in s broad sense. If I do, I'll let you know! That's an interesting thought.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.