22 October, 2008

Henri Matisse & the Artist's Integrity

Deer "Cast" Drawing
14" x 12"
Charcoal, Conte and Compressed Charcoal
Casey Klahn

"A colorist makes his presence known even in a single charcoal drawing," Henri Matisse.

Integrity can be measured by the way others speak about you. That may seem harsh, but legacy is a hard judge and strict. Will you ever be mistreated by others' words? Of course you will. But, with time and distance, if you are remembered at all, people might say nice things about you. Your integrity will be the reason for your fine reputation.

In the case of Henri Matisse, his artistic integrity was evidenced by his groundbreaking work as a founder of Modern Art. It cost him dearly at a psychological level, but he pursued color as a subject (a trademark of Fauvism) and gave the world a legacy of exquisite joy in art. He lost two marriages (one legal and one common law) partly because of his single-minded adherence to his art and his art direction, and he suffered sleep disorders much of his life due to his "not painting like the others".

Matisse was a self-integrated artist; one who painted according to his own authentic vision.

What is the path to artistic integrity? A young Henri Matisse was searching for answers, and just beginning to follow his independent path. In the 1890's, he came under the influence of the Impressionists, who were not universally popular. No lesser light than Camille Pissaro himself said to Matisse, "...you are gifted. Work, and don't listen to anything anyone tells you." (circa 1897)

In memoirs, his friend Maurice Boudot-Lamotte testified that, "Matisse respected nobody and nothing." Matisse's artistic direction was purely his own; unique and self-directed. A legacy worth more than gold, I'd say.

Artistic Integrity Red Meat:

Integrity (Stanford definition)

Artistic Integrity:
"Holding to artistic values; incorruptible; exhibiting wholeness; self-integration." Unknown attribution.


colorspeaker said...

This a great Post "Matisse and Artistic Integrity," of which he in particular, had so much. I am a big reader of artist biographies, and auto-biographies. Between he and Picasso was the artistic temperament at a constant (more enjoyably so for Matisse, as per my interpretation) rivalry, or a competitive nature of sorts. And, if I am not mistaken, after Matisse acknowledged a painting "inspired by Picasso," and It became very Popular, Picasso, seized the moment to create a piece that would get him his due recognition. It is here that I believe Matisse said, "Oh, great artists don't borrow, they simply steal outright." He seemed to be saying many things in that quote, and I love his general love of art for arts sake. He was, in general, happy, productive, and full of life as an artist and as a human being.
I will always love Picasso's art. However, Matisse was beautifully well rounded in his artistic endeavors.
Okay, I will stop now.
Thanks for such great topics!

Yellow said...

See, I told you. For 'integrity and courage' read 'bloody minded sod'. I find your introdustion of 'legacy' interesting. I've heard it bandied around that artistic accomplishment, especially if groundbreaking, is often only recognised posthumously. Maybe that was especially true when the art institutions had very closed doors, but with the self-publicists artists often are in the latter 20thC this may be less so. Not having lived 100 years ago, nor being an art historian myself, I can't confidently comment to what extent this may be true. BUT, I do know that having lived through the introduction of channel 4 in the UK (when there were only previously 3 tv channels) and channel 4's reputation of challenging the establishment, and going out of their way to shock with the new, I know the Arts programmes they produced focused on current art in all disciplines. There has recently been a series on TV called The Art of Arts TV, and it's been a fascinating journey to follow.
I wonder if artists and individuals who go against the norm have it any easier nowadays, in this more accomodating society?

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for weighing in, Julianne and Steph.

Matisse was recognized in his own lifetime, which makes him both unusual and lucky. I often wonder about the differences between today and the main of the 20th C. I am bewildered by the now, because it is so incredibly different from the snail's pace of yesterday.

Certainly the artist at the turn of the 19th to 20th C. (as Matisse was) needed more courage than we do now.

Picasso and Matisse had co-equal respect, which is fascinating. Many retrospectives have been done on this theme, and maybe you've seen one in NYC, Julianne?

Anonymous said...

I am so glad when others research and delve into the "whys" and "wherefores" of past artists. I do love art history, but take such little time to dissect it. I am pleased when others do it for me. I am going to ponder your courage statement, because it seems to me that past artists were ahead of the game no matter what. Where as today, there might be a question of... why bother.

I am intrigued by the term self-integrated artist. Possibly easier to do during that time, due to the fact that they were insulated. We have images bombarding us at all angles.

Now the challenge... to be authentic in today's world.

Casey Klahn said...

You perceive more than you think, here, Robin. Is it harder today to understand one's place as an artist?

Deborah Paris said...

Hi Casey. Very thought provoking post. Strictly speaking, the number of posthumously discovered "masters" is far below those who enjoyed some fame during their lives. This is true from the Renaissance forward (think Michelangelo, Leonardo, Carravagio, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Watteau, Turner, Monet, Degas, Picasso, etc. just to name a very small number)I have to say though that I disagree that artists had a tougher road in the late 19th, early 20th century. Although mass communication and particularly the internet make it easier for an artist to get the work out there- there are still gatekeepers- particularly for those not following an "avant garde" (I call it rear garde) path. Personally, I think trying to make a living as a representational landscape artist in the 21st century is requires an enormous amount of bravery (or stupidty)...:)

Casey Klahn said...

That is a good correction, Deborah - you name many masters that were recognized in their lifetime.

I think of the deprivations that some of these artists suffered - one of Matisse's peers lost his great coat and went through two Paris winters that way. Small stipends, and open derision from their families and sometimes the public.

We have comforts galore, nowadays. Still, your "gatekeepers" comment has merit. OTOH, we have pathways now that never existed 100 years ago.

Sometimes I am just pleased with the art I've made, and that I am living some kind of an artist's life.

colorspeaker said...

The first time I came to NYC at just sixteen I saw my first gallery exhibition at MOMA. It was Sept. 24th, 1989 through Jan. 16, 1990.
And who else could it have been??
Picasso and Braque: "Pioneering Cubism."
Yes, I still have the mini catalog/flyer you receive when attending such exhibits: I had to find craftier ways to continue going every day until it was time to leave-
I loved Picasso immensely (ok, a wee bit obssesively)-that is until I did see a Mattisse exhibit, and then studied them as artists and as human beings. A great deal of communication (artistically and influentially in their time)occurred between these particular two men, at first as artists, then, later in life even more so, but as comrads.
I could go on and on, but I will end with one last thought. Though I am now a painter and do so almost every free (and not so free) moment I have, I wrote,played, and created music for fifteen years +, I never thought to pick up a paint brush. Yet, I flew to NYC just to see my favorite painter as a teenager?
I paint now the same way I played music: every minute I can.
Okay! Enough from me. Going to read the rest of your post and comments.
Thanks again for these great topics-really gets me inspired.
From the other side country,

Casey Klahn said...

Wow, Julianne! Thanks for sharing your story about your attraction to the Modernists.

That's one of the things we miss out here in the hinterland. Really great museum shows.

I am slowly getting hooked into a number of the local museums. As soon as I get acquainted with the head curator, they change jobs. My favorite, though, is the Museum of Northwest Art (mona) that houses the Callahans and the Tobeys.

I am working diligently on the next traits-post: "Decisiveness."

Adam Cope said...

dark nights of the soul when we are tested...

artistic integrity isn't just self vs. the world & the continguent social pressure to conform/find a piece of the finacial market place but also is about, in my experience, something about finding 'le proper de soi' that which belongs to oneself. unpeeling an onion, that which is at one's core, that which is natural to one's self. that means touching upon one's limits as well, which can indeed be painful.

great post

Casey Klahn said...

There you are. The internal struggle is the main one, eh?

Thanks for reading, Adam.

Yellow said...

Adam, you've really hit it there. I am very good at drawing, and can render likenesses....... you know what I mean. I could therefore spend my future years creating, for example, very nice portraits, and make a fair bit of money from it. However, that would feel almost like prostitution to me, a cheap way of using my current skill, while putting my soul in a box in the corner of the room.
Instead I creater rubbish pictures, over and over, trying to get to some unknown destination,and yet loving the journey. I have sat and sketched and had people look over my shoulder who 'oh' and 'aahh' in a complimentary way. Now when I'm out, people still come over full of curiosity, but often just smile in a reassuring manner and walk away quickly. I must be doing something right.

Casey Klahn said...

Steph, you find the voice you like. Then, don't be afraid to frame and show your art.

As a matter of fact, I would say show it as soon as possible!

The first time I ever saw your blog, I thought "this one has artistic courage." I still think that.

Brian McGurgan said...

Steph has expressed it well - that sense of being true to yourself. It benefits, I suppose, from a certain amount of self-knowledge and understanding but even when we are very young or very confused we can sense that something is not quite in keeping with our notion of who we are.

I'm enjoying these posts on artist traits, Casey, and the great discussions they are stimulating.

colorspeaker said...

“Painting is a blind man's profession. He paints not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.”Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

I know you are reflecting mainly on Matisse-but I couldn't resist leaving this...(a personal favorite)

Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism