The making of Guernica

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction” – Pablo Picasso

Last week I visited the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, renowned as the home of Picasso’s Guernica. The famous mural-sized, black-and-white painting was created in 1937 after the devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, and is considered one of the most powerful visual political statements ever made by an artists.

The painting was impressive indeed. Its visual message overwhelming. Undoubtedly the work of a genius.


After intensively and extensively admiring the masterpiece, a series of small black-and-white photographs caught my attention. Posted on the wall opposite the canvas, they depict the making of Guernica. The snapshots were taken by Dora Maar, Picasso’s muse in those days, and show the consecutive development stages of the artwork.

Thanks to these historical pictures I could witness how some key components of the composition, like the bull, the horse, and the (light bulb) sun, were created, destructed and recreated by the Spanish painter.

While observing the metamorphosis of Guernica, I had to think of Dale Carnegie’s quote about delivering a presentation:

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

Just like Picasso’s masterpiece evolved during its inception, conception and creation, your presentation’s messaging, storytelling, and visualization may change over time – although an act of destruction is seldom required.

More reading:


Potato Jesus

Do you remember the story of the elderly Spanish lady who made the news by restoring a fresco in her own unique way? She did such a remarkable job that the mural painting, originally known as Ecce Homo (“Here’s the Man”), got nicknamed Ecce Mono (“Here’s the Monkey”) and Potato Jesus.

But in the meantime her infamous artwork in a church near Zaragoza has turned out to be quite lucrative…


After one year, the bespoke restoration has attracted 40,000 visitors and raised more than 50,000 euro for charity. Cecilia Giménez, the 81-year-old artist, has even had her own art exhibition and signed a deal with a local council to share profits from merchandising the image.

A somewhat unexpected conclusion from this fait divers: even questionable graphic material may (sometimes) generate good business — or yield good presentations. Take for example Tom Peters, a bestselling author who is known as a great business person and an inspiring public speaker. Even though the PowerPoint slides he creates are often overcrowded, with an eye-hurting mix of exotic fonts and striking primary colors (see e.g. one of his “Excellence Now” presentations on SlideShare) most of his presentations are simply excellent…

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

Every painting tells a story

One of my former colleagues once went on vacation to Italy. While he was staying in Florence, he got the opportunity to visit the Vasari Corridor: an enclosed passageway that connects the Palace of the Medicis on one side of the Arno River to the Uffizi Gallery on the other side. Named after the painter, architect and writer Giorgio Vasari (yes, the Italian Renaissance had some notorious multitaskers), the corridor was built in only 5 months in 1564 and is one of the hidden treasures of the Tuscan town. Visitor access is restricted, and you may only enter as part of a guided group.

My co-worker and his wife were conducted through the corridor by an enthusiastic Italian tour guide who took them back to the times of the Medicis, when Cosimo and his wife Eleonora walked along their private corridor and observed the crowd below. He entertained and educated them with anecdotes and stories, and told them with contagious passion about the great paintings on the walls of the Corridor.

When they stopped to admire one of these masterpieces, the visitors only observed an empty wall… The artwork had been lent out to a prestigious US gallery – which seems to be a common practice in Florentine museums. Most of the times a reproduction of the painting (sometimes just a photocopy) is exhibited instead. This was, however, not the case with this particular one in the Vasari Corridor.

But, even when the wall was strikingly blank, the guida spent almost 10 minutes explaining the beauty and provenance of the painting, using a rich Mediterranean vocabulary to describe the painter’s extraordinary technique and exquisite color palette. My colleague told me afterwards that he had enjoyed every minute!


That’s genuine storytelling in action: the art of generating interest and capturing the imagination of your audience (many thanks to Alan Mottram for the travelog, the inspiration and the story).