The flickering of the recognizable among the perplexity of fractured planes in paintings like "Woman with Guitar ('Ma Jolie')" (1911-12) points towards Picasso's next great innovation. Braque had begun putting material besides paint on his canvases–sand, sawdust, iron filings. Characteristically, Picasso grabbed hold of this idea and took it further, producing his "Still Life with Chair Caning" in 1912. This piece was the first use of collage–literally, "gluing"–in the fine arts. Picasso's crucial innovation was to incorporate into his painting a piece of oilcloth printed with an illusionistic chair- caning pattern, the kind used at the time in working-class kitchens to cover a table. This was a new way of making art; instead of painting a thing, you could stick whatever it was right onto the canvas. The three letters above the scrap of cloth, "JOU," can be understood as both the beginning of the word "JOURNAL," alluding to the customary newspaper lying across the café table, and as the French verb meaning "to play." The new technique of collage allowed new possibilities of playfulness.

Picasso's experience with collage made him look at sculpture in a new way, as an assemblage of parts rather than a shaped mass. Air and space permeated the sculptures he made in 1912, riffs on the form of the guitar.

Braque had also been experimenting with the possibilities of collage. Picasso and Eva Gouel met up with the Braques in Sorgues in September, and Braque showed Picasso his first papier collé ("glued paper"), a variation on the collage that used not only found materials like newspapers but also invented shapes cut out of blank paper. Picasso soon began producing his own works with this technique, such as the unusually delicate "Violin and Sheet Music." Collage cultivated a notion of happenstance with its constituent "found objects," come across by chance and then made an intrinsic part of the artistic composition; in this way collage was part of a larger effort to join art with the everyday chaos of the modern world. The idea behind this effort was that the poetry and beauty of modernity must be found in its trash, in the discarded newspapers and dime novels, because to look for the poetry of the twentieth century in the poetic subjects of time past, in flowers and fields, would be dishonest. This aesthetic is also at work in Apollinaire's poetry, equally a product of strolls through the paper-strewn, incomprehensible streets of Paris:

You read handbills, catalogues, posters that shout out loud:Here's this mornings poetry, and for prose you've got the newspapers,Sixpenny detective novels full of cop stories, Biographies of bigshots, a thousand different titles, Lettering on billboards andwalls, Doorplates and posters squawk like parrots.

Kahnweiler referred to the work of this period as Synthetic Cubism. The fame of Cubism and its inventors spread: Apollinaire published a book called Les Peintres cubistes: Méditations esthétiques ("The Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations"), and in 1913 Picasso's work was included in the Armory Show in New York, remembered as the exhibit which first brought European modernism to a large American audience. In that year, Picasso held his first large retrospective in Munich. But, as Picasso's reputation soared, European politics were straining to the breaking point. Picasso used the bits of newspaper he used in his collages to comment on the worsening situation.

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