Bravo to Henri Matisse (1869-1954). He followed his vision in spite of harsh art world judgments. In 1908, he wrote:
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter…a soothing, calming influence on the mind.
The art world has always taken itself seriously, no matter what style it promotes in any given decade, such as: Impressionism (1870s-1886), Post-Impressionism (1985-1905), Cubism (1907-1914), Dadaism (1914-1924), Surrealism (1924-1940) or Abstract Expressionism (1943-1955). With his 1908 statement, Matisse alienated critics more than usual. In response to his flamboyant colors and simple shapes, the art milieu dismissed Matisse as a decorative artist. In art language, this labeled him an amateur. But he refused to conform to any of the art world “isms” that predominated during his lifetime.
It took true courage for Matisse to adopt and live by an anti-art credo. Luckily, art history has treated him well and his art is greatly admired today. It could have been otherwise. Usually when rejected by one’s peers, an artist falls through history’s cracks.
Artists were traditionally seen as society’s rebels, their art leading trends on the cultural cutting edge. Ironically, when an artist refused to conform to the current avant-garde trend, the tyrannical in-crowd turned on him or her, just as the critics lambasted Matisse. Without the chutzpah that led to his creation of Interiors, Jazz and Windows series, the world would have been far less beautiful and inspired. I applaud Matisse’s courage. He’s being honored on his 150th birthday with an exhibit at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, open until February 2021. Even if we can’t get there, we can savor his art online. We’re fortunate he possessed a brave soul and persevered in his vibrant vision in spite of opposing art world pressure. Today, many applaud him as the greatest artist who ever lived.
2023 February 8 – May 8