09 January 2024

An amends to Matisse, craft and technique

Ok I bashed Matisse so much in my last post I've felt a tremor of guilt these past days. Sacré Bleu! So, with a heightened sense of artistic shame, I shall make amends with a few more images from Paris that reveal his remarkable agility in using paint. 

I actually tried to find images that reflected my critical discomfort with some of his work that might sometimes, though infrequently, seem too 'academic' as per my understanding about art. But honestly, I could find little, nothing of consequence that would help further my thinking in this regard. But, I did find one, a still-life below that illustrates my critique, a real clunker. And yet, the truth for any painter is that, he (or she), must endure the occasional clunkers, even if they arrive at great intervals throughout our working lives. But obviously, one doesn't want to fill one's precious life with too many clunkers.

And it's true that I'm a critical person by nature, most definitely suited for speaking about art. And yes, I go after laughably pretentious examples of poor work by phoney desparate-for-success painters. These are often people who have all the accoutrements of 'being an artist' as opposed to being a painter with a diligent application of craft. This is akin to people mistaking 'celebrity' at the Hollywood Oscars for serious actors who employ their thespian craft on stage. Okay,,,, I know,,, I know,,, I can get off target, but hey! It's a new year! And with the new year comes new problems, new critiques!

But lately these days, I have noticed that to be seen as an artist, to be taken seriously as an 'artiste', it definitely helps to look the part; the wild colourful clothes, the wilder haircuts, the adornment of abundant and edgy tattoos! All these things are great for expressing indivuality in this conservative world, but these external identities eventually just fade away with time, just like ours looks (except the tattoos) for these physical artifices cannot in themselves actually produce much substance. Any work executed without some notion for craft will wilt like flowers because one cannot fake the greatness that lies in the ephemeral shadows of permanence. This is especially true when one is armed with just technique, because employed on its own, it's always mistaken for craft. 

So, after all that, here are eight pictures from different periods which show off the immense talents of Matisse, pictures that reveal the mysteries of his craft in full swing. The ninth, and last at the bottom, is what I deem the real clunker, one typical of when his craft doesn't work for him. It kind of sinks of its own weight. But I wanted to include it because I had previously written of this vein deep inside Henry Matisse that could run shallow due to his earnest desire to please a public audience, one which all academic teaching at that time had aspired to please. 

Somehow, in 19th century France, the acquisition of certain painting techniques at the Beaux-Arts was thought to be the integral component for making an artist. And because of this, like so many academic traditions everywhere, The Beaux Arts institution habitually cranked out boring academic painters whose only skills were centred upon this system alone.

But concerning Matisse, I think this 'vein' deep within him retreated just as the wild animal (le fauve) inside, had progressed with more undomesticated artistic appetite. But, alas, (for me only), by the end of his life, to my regret, his cut-outs (wildly adored by the public) became a step backward into the comfort of domesticity. I say this not without deep sympathy because he was not in great health near the end of his life, often bedridden, and so, making cut-outs was an agreeable compromise. He was such a titan that one cannot fathom how he must have felt to be growing weaker while his artistic powers were still aflame. 

Writing about him suddenly makes me want to re-read his biography in two volumes by Hilary Spearling that I read about a decade ago and loved so much. Maybe, I shall order it on Audible, for some kinds of things are best read while others heard. 


the clunker in question

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