Cubism & Cognition

Isha Sharma
4 min readMay 25, 2021


Guernica (1937) by Pablo Picasso

Cubism was a revolutionary early 20th-century modern art movement, in which artists brought various fragments of any subject (figures or objects) together in the same canvas, creating paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted.

Man with Opera Hat by Juan Gris

One of the artists from that movement was Juan Gris, a student of the artist Pablo Picasso, who is known to be the father of Cubism. Gris created the drawing called “Man with Opera Hat”, which belongs to the Analytical Cubism, a subset of Cubism, and is a study for a larger painting called the “Man in the Café”, in which the man resembles the corresponding section of that painting.

Man in the Cafe by Juan Gris

Even without an explicit depiction of what is drawn, we can easily comprehend it as a drawing of a man with an opera hat. This is because our brain is wired to perceive a man with a hat, as our past experiences enable us to conclude information about this drawing. Gris used juxtaposition of perspectives to build a feeling of discordance, which can be comfortably perceived and comprehended by the brain. This painting is sort of like a puzzle; our brain assembles the pieces of the drawing and then analyzes what it is, by rendering the past experiences and observations.

Cubism bought in a sense of complexity in the world of painting, as it was not conventional to what was consider art at that time. Cubists believed that Cubism is all about how to bring in the sense of rapidness in the realm of art. The art made during the Cubism period tends to exhibit some sort of assembled estimate of actual things in space; it helped introduce flux in art. Through different perspectives, various aspects of the moment can be understood of a subject. Along with retaining visual aesthetics, Gris embedded geometry in the drawing, which depicts both the hemispheres of the brain, right and left, are at work. The left brain is considered more logical, while the right brain is considered more creative, but this painting is not just the work of the right side of the brain, there has to be some coordination between the two. The two hemispheres are connected by a bundle of nerve cells called the Corpus Callosum. Creating art is among one of the most complex human behaviors, it likely requires the coordination of multiple brain regions and types of thinking. So, it might be naive to think that this painting or any kind of artwork is done by some localized functions/regions in the brain.

Cubism paintings and drawings are a result of training a brain to see the subject in flux. Our brains are malleable and can be rewired throughout our lives. One of the processes that play an important role here is perceptual learning, which is the ability of sensory systems to respond to stimuli through experience. This kind of learning occurs through sensory interaction with the environment as well as through practice in performing specific sensory tasks.

Most of the time the artists distinguish the imagery from the real, but in Cubism, and this drawing, the artists collaged the fragments of the subject, thus the subject becomes part of the imaginary world. Creating and accomplishing an artwork gives a sense of visually aesthetic reward to the creator, and this is why artists are indulged into incessantly creating art of any kind.

Face Puzzle — Rodrigo Domínguez

This drawing, “Man with Opera Hat”, is perceived by our eyes as is, but is rearranged and assembled by the brain by examining any of our past experiences related to seeing any man with a hat. By looking at this drawing we get a sense of flux as well as some sense of visual aesthetic, which is the end goal of any artwork.



Isha Sharma

A sucker for creative coding, poetry, hauntingly beautiful songs of despair, serendipity || CS