looking at life with the eyes of a child

Open Window, Collioure, Henri Matisse, 1905

Open Window, Collioure, Henri Matisse, 1905

Henri Matisse contributed an article to the 6 February 1954 Art News and Review on how an artist sees and creates.

He writes that it's a mistake to attribute a creative prowess to innate talents.

In art, the true creator is not just gifted with special abilities, but a person who has "succeeded in arranging for their appointed end of complex activities", where the art is the outcome.

Which I come to understand as a person who lives, or more specifically, sees in a way that allows them to create naturally. They live to create and they create to live.

Matisse talks about vision. Creation begins with vision.

Seeing, noticing, paying attention to the right things all requires effort.

He warns us of the endless influx of digital noise that can distort our ways of seeing, like how news and media generates biases for the mind, causing us to unconsciously focus on certain ideas more than others.

To see is itself a creative operation, requiring an effort. Everything we see in our daily life is more or less distorted by acquired habits.

This effort to see things without distortion requires courage. And this courage is essential to the artist.

You have to look at everything as though it was the first time: looking at life as you did when you were a child.

If you don't have this ability, you cannot express yourself in an original (personal) way.

Nothing, I think, is more difficult for a true painter than to paint a rose because, before he can do so, he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.

The first step in creation is to see things for what they truly are, and this requires constant effort. To create is to express what is within ourselves.

Every creative effort comes from within

To cultivate this, the artist has to assimilate the external world within himself, projecting the inner on to the canvas, until his drawing becomes a part of him.

When I paint a portrait, I come back again and again to my sketch, and every time it is a new portrait that I am painting: not one that I am improving, but a quite different one that I am beginning over again; and every time I extract from the same person a different being.

An artist's work becomes really creative when he creates a habit of taking from his surroundings, everything that can feed his creative vision, either directly or by analogy.

He has to filter and select from all possible combinations and not accumulate details. He has to find "the line that expresses most and gives life to the drawing" and "the equivalent terms by which the facts of nature are transposed into art"

He thus concludes that a work of art is the "climax of long work of preparation".

Recounting his experience painting In my Still Life with Magnolia, where he states that the secret of creation lies in the play and balance of colors and lines.

And his chapel at Vence, where the color and light, every line and every detail, gives an impression of boundless space.

This is how art imitates nature.

That is the sense, so it seems to me, in which art may be said to imitate nature, namely, by the life that the creative worker infuses into the work of art. The work will then appear as fertile and as possessed of the same power to thrill, the same resplendent beauty as we find in works of nature.

He ends with the precondition of love for creation.

Great love is needed to achieve this effect, a love capable of inspiring and sustaining that patient striving towards truth, that glowing warmth and that analytic profundity that accompany the birth of any work of at. But is not love the origin of all creation?