Not too long ago I gave a lecture at a high school in rural Georgia for a group of freshmen who had never encountered art before. The topic was a basic lesson on how to analyze and read art. I, of course, included all the usual suspects - but stuck with more representational art (how do you teach thirty fourteen year olds, with no previous knowledge about art, how to read a Jackson Pollack?).
They were surprisingly interested in the work I showed them: Rembrandt, da Vinci, Picasso..... but when I came to this piece Saturn Devouring his Children they let out a collective gasp! Suddenly, even the few who had before been passing notes, were rapt with attention. I remember asking myself how they might see this painting. I wanted to look through their eyes and see it again for the first time.
What is it about this piece that can be so universally understood? These teenagers, who had never even heard the name Picasso, got this painting immediately. When I asked them to describe it they were amazingly articulate (they surprised even their teacher). They described how it was terrifying, yet at the same time, one somehow identifies with Saturn and not the body being eaten. They thought that maybe it was because Saturn himself looks terrified by what he is compelled to do.
This is something that everyone can identify with. It is some inherent part of human nature. Somehow this painting applies both to the individual and to the state of mankind. What does this reveal to us about art? What does it reveal about ourselves?