HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."
- Pablo Ruiz y Picasso.
Picasso might not have been a fan of computers, but they've changed quite a bit since way back in the 20th Century - and much of what they're used for today has absolutely nothing to do with generating answers. Whether the master would have considered software like Photoshop to be a legitimate artistic tool is anyone's guess, but an even more interesting question is what he would have thought of the ability for anyone to create their own 'Picassos' online. The artist's encounter with Mr. Picassohead would definitely have been interesting.
But since Pablo's gone, Mr. Picassohead will simply have to entertain the rest of us. As you may have gathered from the name, this interactive diversion follows the conventions of Mr. Potato Head in constructing home-made portraits, but uses Cubist elements in the choices of construction material. And while it's possible that a few surfers might gain some useful academic insight about the Cubist movement during their visits, the purpose of the site is simply recreation. Play. Which is to say, art in it's purest form.
The visitor's first encounter with the site is a sparse and attractive splash page, offering the options of moving into a Gallery of visitor-submitted artwork or proceeding to the 'Play' area. Play's Flash based application presents the budding artist with a blank canvas and an index of various interchangeable artistic elements - such as eyes, noses, hair, and abstract shapes. (The Index also offers the ability to add your signature -in Picasso's hand, of course- to your masterpiece.) Each element offers nine variations on its theme, any or all of which can be simply drag-and-dropped onto the canvas as many times as desired. (Thinking of a canvas with 23 eyes, one ear and no noses? Feel free.)
Along the bottom of the screen, a series of icons facilitates such refinements as selecting a color for each element, changing its size or orientation, and even choosing its 'layered' position in relation to the other components. (Do you want that ear to sit in front of, or behind the eyes?)
Any element can be changed at any time, and even deleted entirely via the familiar option of the Trash icon. Finalized works can be saved to the onsite Gallery, and if you're particularly proud of a creation, emails can be sent to your public with a link to your particular space on the wall. As an indicator of the site's popularity, there were more than 117,000 images in the Gallery as of Feb. 1 - and it's a good thing that there's a keyword search for patrons pressed for time.
(By the way, if being Picasso makes you want to learn a bit more about that other Picasso, Artcyclopedia's Picasso listing holds more than 100 direct museum links and a dozen online image archives, as well as magazine articles and multi-media presentations. If you'd like to make a more in-depth examination of a specific work, The National Gallery of Art has an interactive exploration of Picasso's The Tragedy - using infrared and x-ray images to reveal previous works below the final oil-on-wood painting. A QuickTime animation is also available to illustrate the various stages in the painting's evolution.)
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Picasso.
For a bit of meaningless diversion, Mr Picassohead is a surprisingly flexible application, and the site design has the pages looking good even before being adorned with visitor masterpieces. The intuitive interface and quick response times encourage surfers to stay and play a while, and -if only for the duration of the visit- reconnect with the child/artist within.
Mr. Picassohead can be found at http://www.mrpicassohead.com/.