While reading about Matisse and his writings, I discovered a tad more about his own personal “philosophy” or refusal to have one as an artist. I agree with this artistic approach, although it contains a paradox, (as explained by Jack Flam, the specialist who created the anthology of Matisse’s work I have been drawing upon), that seems to me to be an inherent aspect of abstract art itself.
“Matisse, like Cèzanne, stands apart from the schools and systems that were contemporary with him…Matisse’s extreme emphasis on self-expression is also very paradoxical in that it defines, reality by describing one’s own reaction to it, suggesting that an artist’s production is the somewhat involuntary result of his temperament, from which it follows that the artist must simply believe that he has painted what he has seen, “even when he deviates from it in order better to express it” Notes of a painter, 1908. This creates a kind of circular relationship between the self and nature, and between expression and copying, that results in a kind of theoretical impasse. But it is not a paradox Matisse wanted to resolve; rather, he absolutely needed to leave it unresolved and open in order to permit himself to act. For as Matisse states it, the artist must find his own signs,…through which his deeply subjective responses to the world can be given form…because the true artist’s work must emanate from the true self.” Matisse on Art, Introduction by Jack Flam, 1995.
The problem or paradox is itself, in my opinion, one that endows art with the value it holds for a community and for society at large. As artists we endeavor to articulate a mystery about an infinite mystery that is continually unfolding before us. And as Matisse (and other spiritual teachers) concludes, it is most perceivable through a child-like openness.
If an artist is true to the vision he holds of reality, and expresses it truthfully in his artwork, it clearly does not follow, that its “truth” should have to be discernable, in exactly the same terms, to someone else as its viewer, in order for it to be meaningful and hold value in itself. Abstract art is a perfect example.
I think it is precisely because the artwork does reach us with a truth that dislodges the realm of the purely rational and evident, that it is so compelling. The artist’s creative process follows a similar perceptive journey of receptivity as the viewer experiences as he perceives the artwork.
Here are Matisse’s words, “To sum up, I work without theory. I am conscious only of the forces I use, and I am driven by an idea that I really only grasp as it grows with the picture.” Notes of a Painter on his Drawing, Matisse 1939
With ease Matisse creates a space of artistic freedom for himself and others. He arrives at this freedom by means of creating a unique notion of how he as an artist is to go about seeing – A notion that the viewers’ of the artwork adopt as well.
“The effort needed to see things without distortion demands a kind of courage; and this courage is essential to the artist, who has to look at everything as though he were seeing it for the first time: he has to look at life as he did when he was a child and if he loses that faculty, he cannot express himself in an original, that is, a personal way…The work of art is thus the culmination of a long process of development. The artist takes from his surroundings everything that can nourish his internal vision, either directly, as when the object he draws is to appear in his composition, or by analogy. In this way he puts himself into a state of creativity. He enriches himself internally with all the forms he has mastered and that he will one day set within a new rhythm.
It is in the expression of this rhythm that the artist’s work will be really creative. To achieve it, he will need to sift rather than accumulate details, selecting in drawing, for example from all possible combinations, the line that will be most fully expressive and carry the most life; he will have to seek equivalences through which elements of nature are transposed into the realm of life.
It is in this sense, it seems to me, that art may be said to imitate nature: by the quality of life that creative work confers upon the work of art. The work will then appear as fertile and as possessed of this same inner vibration, of this same resplendent beauty, that we find in the products of nature.
Great love is needed to inspire and sustain this continuous striving towards truth, this concurrent generosity and profound laying bare that accompany the birth of any work of art. But isn’t love at the origin of all creation?” Looking at Life with the Eyes of a Child, Matisse 1953
I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about Matisse and his creative vision. I embrace with a kind of joy the freedom he achieves as an artist. He was absorbed in the creative discovery process and openly shared it through his correspondence and writings. It was good to learn that he was a bit of a compulsive correspondent and writer, something I also readily identified with. It’s estimated that he spent at least an hour a day writing letters and reflections in his journals – throughout his lifetime.
Now, how does this all come to bear on my own artwork?
Panel Composition: Wheel within a Wheel 100-106
The artworks I have been fashioning for this panel composition over the last months have all come about via a selective vision enveloped in a “subjective” symbolic design building process, that has given my work its distinctiveness – as it does for most artists. My hope is that as the viewer, you find as much joy in the sight of the artworks, as I have discovered through the creative journey itself.
I conclude with Kandinsky’s thoughts about Matisse’s work: “He paints “pictures” and through these “pictures” he seeks to reproduce the “divine.” Kunst and Künstler, Kandinsky 1909. That is a wonderful aspiration to hold as an artist, and it is one I will continue to pursue through my own creative efforts.