Pablo Picasso’s, Minotaur in the Labyrinth  – a reinterpretation

“Who was it who suggested that I dance with a horse?  It began ok.  The woman with the veil smiled as we waltzed, the two hands clapped as we progressed through the labyrinth.  It wasn’t the easiest of dances, my human feet were capable – but trying to hold the horse so she could to dance on her back legs taxed my arms.  And, of course, she – though expertly trained in dressage at the Royal Andalusian School, and highly skilled at it – wasn’t used to a prolonged hind-leg only piece.

But we managed the two and a half minutes of the first dance without a hitch.  In fact, we did it well.  I held her round her girth, she rested her forelegs on my shoulders and nuzzled my ears.  We moved in sync.  It all felt good. 

The language barrier meant we couldn’t talk – me being Ancient Greek speaking and she Castilian Spanish, but some-how we were in tune, that first dance. 

I felt confident enough to propose – through gesture – that we try something else, a polka, or a foxtrot, or maybe a tango?  She seemed to get what I meant.   The woman in the veil nodded approval at the choice of tango and the two hands gave a thumbs-up. 

The 8-count basic tango seemed about the right level.  I didn’t know how much she’d been schooled in tango, but she started off on the right hoof, and we got going.  I think things started to go wrong when I embarked on more advanced moves.  She couldn’t keep up as well and I found my arms beginning to flag as the speed and complexity of the dance increased. 

She really was pretty hefty.  But we managed a few of the giros – you know that move that happens each time the woman goes around the man.  It was a back sacada that did it – I don’t have to tell you that the man does this with his right leg which is much more tricky due to the asymmetrical tango embrace. 

Somehow, I got tangled up with her.  My arms gave way, she collapsed on the floor, panting.  It was a terrible sight.  The woman in the veil screamed and the two hands flapped wildly for assistance. 

The big hand hurtled in but mistakenly headed for the screaming woman.  That left me to pick up the fallen horse, draping her over my arm and heading towards the helping hand, using my other arm to hold up the sky which mysteriously seemed about to fall. “


That piece above I wrote during a summer school creative writing programme.  We were set an exercise to choose from one of 3 pictures presented and write 500 words on the picture.   I don’t remember what the other two pictures were, but I chose that one of Picasso’s Minotaur in the Labyrinth.   At the end of each day of the course we were given an assignment that had to be ready for presentation, and critique, the following morning to classmates.   

It was, however, my second attempt.  The first piece that I set to and wrote was ok, but not great.  It felt stilted, and not expressive of anything that came across so vibrantly in the painting.  I gave up on it and went off for a walk.   As I was walking, I was mulling over the legend of the Minotaur and how he got to be in the labyrinth.   There’s nothing I could find that’s told from the Minotaur’s perspective.  What was it like being kept in a labyrinth? What agency did he have?  What other sides to his personality, other than the ‘terrifying’?   I wondered if the Minotaur has been lopsidedly portrayed in myth and legend.

Out of this, another idea on the painting struck me, and I came back and wrote the above.  It made me laugh as I was writing it.  I felt I’d captured something possible but unrecognised in the Minotaur’s character, something that comes across in the amused and bemused expression on his face as Picasso painted it.

I took the piece to the class next day and, when my turn came, read it out.  Classmates loved it and laughed as much as I’d wondered if they would.  All but one, who was Spanish and felt I had completely misunderstood the period of Spanish history in which Picasso was painting, and didn’t get the symbolism in the painting of strength, rebellion, power, and so on.    

This was a writing exercise I found fun to do.   I’ve taken other writing courses which give similar open-ended assignments, for example, ‘Describe a moment of arrival’, another ‘Write about a personal landmark’.    They’re often time bounded: ‘In the next 10 minutes write about the colour green’.  One teacher recommended a book, Writing Down the Bones, that I found I had on my shelf – it had been given to me years ago by a journalist friend, but I’d never got around to reading it.  When I did, I found it was a marvellous and helpful guide.   

What I enjoyed about my response to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth painting was the inkling it gave me that perhaps I could be a creative writer, or a flash fiction writer or something more colourful than a ploddingly grey recorder of things that happened during my day.

I think I need more practice.   I need exercises that will goad my inner workings into creative inspiration.   Just writing every day is ok but it is like just running every day.  To get better at running you need to train – speed, intervals, track, fartlek, etc – over different distances and different terrains.  I do a lot of this type of running training.  And I keep a running goal in mind – I want to be able to run 10k at 87% age graded.  I’m getting closer to achieving that and the training is a large part of getting there.

I’m not sure why I don’t take a similar approach to writing.  It’s not that I don’t do writing training, I just do it sporadically and not consistently, and I do it with no specific goal in mind.   Maybe if I set myself the goal of getting a piece of flash fiction published and then trained with that goal in mind – there are umpteen flash fictions courses available – I could become the creative writer that I may have lying latent within me.

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