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Jean Cocteau, “Dandy of Modern Art,” Explained at Jewish Cultural Center

blood poet


By Béa Aaronson

French movie director and scenarist, novelist, playwright, artist, set designer, and actor Jean Cocteau is probably the most multitalented artist of the 20th century. But he was first and foremost a poet. It is poetry that suffuses all of his esthetic creative activities.

Poetry was the basis of all his art, a religion without hope. He began writing at age 10 and was already published at 16. As W.H. Auden so rightly said: “to enclose the collected works of Cocteau, one would need not a bookshelf, but a warehouse!”

Poetry does not live only in words; it breathes in music, in silence, in lines, colors, and images. Each image brings forth a moment of identity. The image is at the core of our plural identity. That is why it is so difficult to grasp Jean Cocteau’s artistic life.

Some critics called him “a slippery character,” but this is so unfair. Cocteau is a pluri-disciplinary creator. I much prefer French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand’s description—Cocteau “l’insaisissable,” the elusive Cocteau, which seems to me the mot juste.

His work reflects the influence of surrealism, psychoanalysis, cubism, and the Catholic religion, all bathing in a creative waft of opium. Always on the avant-garde, promoting new styles and fashions, Cocteau contributed much to the shaping of the 20th-century zeitgeist.

Born in 1885 into a wealthy, politically prominent family, yes, Cocteau lived the life of a dandy, a jet society elegant butterfly. His numerous friends included Coco Chanel, Edith Piaf (with whom he shared the day of his funeral in 1963), Maria Félix, Marlene Dietrich, Erik Satie, Marcel Proust, Serge Diaghilev, and Pablo Picasso, to name a few. Incidentally, Cocteau fell under the spell of Picasso, who was not very kind to him. The egocentric Spaniard used to say that “Cocteau was the tail of his comet!”

But Cocteau’s social life should not belittle the quality and the depth of his vision. Everything he touched was nurtured by the need, the urge to understand the human voice, to decipher the algebra of the human condition. And this is what I want to share with you, the magic touch of Jean Cocteau the proteiform artist. I shall introduce you to his poetry, his plays, his drawings, frescos, and ceramics, and, of course, his amazing movies. Cinema was for him the most complete form of art, “metaphysics in action” as he called it.

Come and join me in meeting Jean Cocteau, an essential catalyst force in a 20th-century world of words and images.



“Jean Cocteau: The Elusive Dandy of Modern Art”

By Béa Aaronson

Tue–Wed, Mar 13–14, 3:30pm

The Jewish Cultural Center of San Miguel

Las Moras 47 (Corner of Cinco de Mayo)

150 pesos per person

130 pesos for members

Please arrive at least 15 minutes early


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