Ten Things I Learned from Matisse
Have you read Hilary Spurling's two volume bio of Matisse ?
I highly recommend it. I love biographies of artists and creative people. The bio of Matisse is lengthy, but I found it a fascinating read. His long life spanned two world wars and a sea change in culture and the arts.
Anytime I read an artist's biography I take notes to see where their process might feel familiar, to see what I can take into the studio myself.
It is tempting, especially with someone like the immortal Henri Matisse, to think,
”This is it - they have it ALL FIGURED OUT. If I just do what they did, I’ll discover the BIG SECRET for myself!” But the lessons are so much more relevant if one can view their journey through the prism of one's own experience. That particular artist mastered the lessons of their lifetime in the context of their culture, their moment in history, their karma. Our journeys may share a few similarities as artists, but that is usually where any overlap end.
There is a lifetime’s worth of wisdom to glean from Matisse’s fearlessness and dedication to his own vision.
Here are a few nuggets that I saved to help me along my way.
TEN THINGS I LEARNED FROM HENRI MATISSE
1) Say more with less.
2) Say more with more.
3) Changing form is not artistic schizophrenia, it is creativity.
4) Try everything, but only keep what serves your vision. In other words, don’t follow a popular style or material at the expense of your own authentic narrative.
5) Beauty isn’t always pretty
6) but, Pretty can be powerful when imbued with great feeling and originality.
7)Making creative choices and decisions is more important than just depicting/describing something.
8) Any subject/object can be the starting point for making art.
9) Age is no excuse for laziness.
10) Find joy in the process.
That last one is a very important piece of wisdom.
Matisse worked in an almost relentless state of self-imposed pressure and anxiety. Sometimes the public loved the result, often it did not, at least in Matisse's lifetime. There are no guarantees of success when making art, so if there is any satisfaction to be had, it had better come in the creative process.
When I look at the carnival of color and apparent joie de vivre in Matisse’s work,
I wonder what a little dose of relaxation and joy might have done for him.
Would he have had the compulsive perseverance to push ahead in his work if he had "lightened up" a bit? History's gain was his loss. He suffered insomnia, sickness, and was plagued by constant anxiety while making his glorious art.
I guess I can rest assured that I am not rewriting the course of Art History, so I can afford to enjoy the ride. Any of us who have the opportunity in this life to make art are truly fortunate. To get all angsty about is seems so small and self-important, as if to throw the gift back to the gods.
I hope that Matisse took some satisfaction in knowing that he was always true to his own vision. That is the the main thing I took from Matisse, and if I can say that, at the end of my days, I will feel like a real success.
So, to Life, to Art, to Matisse! Enjoy!
Artist, writer, workshop planner, swimmer, dog-mom, wife...I find inspiration in the serendipitous connections between making a meaningful, beautiful life and making honest art.
All work on this site is original by Diane Santarella Lawrence, unless noted, and is
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Many of the beautiful images taken in the studios of Skip and me are by Joel Kiester and Brian Eiseman of 1513Photo. Many thanks, Guys, for your friendship and elegant work!
And Thanks to my two biggest fans, my husband Skip Lawrence and Rothko the Wonderdog for constantly surprising, challenging, inspiring and supporting me.