The Bull by Pablo Picasso – A Lesson in Abstraction

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Pablo Picasso’s The Bull is a series of eleven lithographs created in 1945. It depicts the bull at various stages of abstraction, starting with a fairly realistic depiction and ending with nothing but a few lines.

Pablo Picasso, The Bull, 1945
Pablo Picasso, The Bull, 1945

The first lithograph in the series appears light and spontaneous, as if it were quickly sketched with a brush and ink. The features are fairly accurate and there is some rendering of shadows.

Picasso Bull 1

The bull then starts to transform into more of a mythical beast, with exaggerated horns and a robust appearance. The shadows are also dark and imposing.

Picasso Bull 2

By around half-way through the series, the bull starts to take on a more typical Picasso appearance, with abstract shapes and stylized features.

Picasso Bull 5

Picasso continues to simplify the form, straightening out the lines and flattening the planes.

Picasso Bull 8

The final lithograph is nothing but a simple line drawing to depict the bull.

Picasso Bull 11

Key Takeaway

Learning how to take complex subjects and simplify them down to abstract forms is a major aspect of art. Most people think that art is all about seeing more detail, but it is really about seeing less. Seeing basic patterns amongst the “noise”; seeing basic forms amongst the complex; seeing the few important details which convey the majority of meaning.

Picasso took it a step further by adding the mythical bull between the realistic and abstract depictions. This represents the exaggerated perception of the bull. Perception is what allows everyone to experience the world in a unique way and it is why art is so diverse.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

22 comments on “The Bull by Pablo Picasso – A Lesson in Abstraction”

  1. Thank you for the explanation of shapes and patterns amongst the ‘noise.’ I frequently forget that when I paint!

    I love your signature, Picasso-like in its own way!

    Reply
  2. Great narrative on a complex idea! I always love reading your posts. Thank you so much for your insight. It is amazing how this idea of seeing less to resolve a painting issue correlates to many of the ideas that are spinning around in our heads. For instance, we are faced with an issue. We see it for what it is. Then, our minds increase it into something more than it is when all that we need to do is simplify it until finally, it is just a few squiggles or simply a signature. Thank you for bringing this to light!

    Reply
  3. Great stuff. I feel as I continue my painting journey that the abstract is drawing me more and more. Your insight and demonstration was so enlightening. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. I am at the beginning of my art journey and I often find it difficult to ignore the ‘noise’ in the things I am trying to paint or draw. Your article is really useful to me as it explains clearly how to do just that. Thank you so much.

    Reply

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