The Absurd, Part 2: Picasso’s Old Guitarist and Sysiphus

I came across this painting right after reading The Myth of Sisyphus. It was painted by Pablo Picasso during his blue period between 1901 and 1904 (the name of that period, obviously, comes from an excessive use of blue color). The Old Guitarist was painted in 1903, after Picasso’s close friend committed suicide. Also, the artist was struggling financially during that period. The following interpretation of the painting consists of completely personal views and I doubt that this particular meaning was intended by the artist.

The Old Guitarist depicts an impoverished musician playing his instrument under the dim light. The guitarist is seated uncomfortably, his back and torso reclining, his shoulders shrugged, and his arms are tense. He is also wearing torn clothes and is malnourished. However, the guitarist is still playing his guitar, which grabs the viewer’s attention as it is the only object not painted in any shade of blue. For me, the guitarist represents a human, and his condition the human condition; the condition each and every human has to deal with. We all struggle, if not with poverty then with the existence itself, the struggle to understand our place in an endless and meaningless void.

 In Camus’s essay, the metaphor for a human struggling with his condition is the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a character from Greek mythology who was condemned into an eternal punishment: to push a rock up the hill only for it to roll down. Camus concluded his essay with an argument that Sisyphus has no hope for any other condition, that one is the only one he can ever have. Upon realizing that, the character embraces the absurd. The absurd does not mean happiness. However, when Sisyphus understands that there is no other destiny, no fate other than the one he has. And rolling the stone is his thing, his struggle, and therefore his joy. 

And as it is with Sisyphus’s stone, it is the same with the old guitarist’s guitar. He still gently envelopes the guitar and softly plays his tune despite, and even because of realization of his condition, finding his joy in it. One must imagine The Old Guitarist happy. 


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