Saturday, September 11, 2010

Matisse and the WIP

Henri Matisse - Bathers By a River

I've always been fascinated by the creative process - from the POV of both writer and artist. Where an idea comes from, how it evolves and is redefined throughout the course of writing, painting, sculpting or any creative act.  One of the highlights of my recent New York visit was an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, Matisse: Radical Invention - that focused on this very thing - the process of creation. 

This collection of the artist's painting and sculpture from 1913 to 1917 exposes Matisse's exploration - as he re-envisioned and revised several pieces over a period of years. In a series of bas reliefs, Back I, II, III and IV, Matisse delineated the contours of the female form over and over again, scraping away and redefining, constructing and deconstructing form. Luckily, the bas relief, sculpted in clay, was cast at different stages over the years, freezing Matisse's process so we could see how it evolved and devolved. In the process, the forms became more angular, acquired a cubist edge and gradually became more abstract.

The canvas, Bathers by a River, painted from 1913 to 1917, evolved from the graceful lines of female forms to geometric shapes, more symbolic than representational, as Matisse dabbled, scraping away layers of paint to reveal underlying colors, and then adding new paint. Cross sections of the work reveal changes in the palette to more austere colors from warm to cool and reductive, leaning toward abstraction, building form in gray and black. 

"When you have achieved what you want in a certain area, when you have exploited the possibilities that lie in one direction, you must, when the times comes, change course, search for something new," Matisse said.

It struck me that this notion could apply to any creative act, art,writing, business - or life in general.  The key to success may be knowing instinctively how to recognize when the process of exploration has ended. When to stop revising. When the WIP - whatever the work is - is no longer in process, but complete.  

How do you know when your WIP - manuscript or painting - is complete? Please comment.


Susan Bearman said...

Hi, Megan. First, I just love your art. Your "Sleepy Girl" looks exactly like an illustration I have pictured for my finished PB manuscript called "My Friend the Moon." No publisher yet, but I hope someday.

I think saying "this is done" is a very difficult thing for a writer or artist to do. Tweaking is something most of us can't abandon easily. In my experience, the visual artists I know are better at it than the writers I know.

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Hi Susan,
Thanks so much for your perceptive comment. I agree - I trust my instincts about when a painting is complete with more certainty than I feel about my writing. Either way, I could probably keep revising any given piece forever.

Thanks for the compliment - so glad you like my art. And good luck with "My Friend the Moon." What a lovely title.

Lori W. said...

I agree w/Susan that it's very difficult for writers to know. Sometimes, I just make myself move on because, with a story, there seem to be infinite numbers of ways to tweak it. I really like that quote, though because it does show that sometimes we do need a change of direction and to turn towards something new.

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Hi Lori
I agree with both of you about the temptation to tweak. For writers, there is an art to knowing when to stop revising - or if you're lucky there's a deadline.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Dear Ms. Megan,

I know when my manuscript is done when the urge to start another manuscript is overwhelming.

Half Baked

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Dear HB
Thanks for sharing. I like your approach. My problem is, I get the urge to start writing a new manuscript when I'm not even finished a first draft of the current one - when it's only half-baked, as it were.

Connie Arnold said...

Good point, there has to be a time when you decide your creative art is complete. For me, I guess it's when I read what I've written again and it touches my heart in the way I want readers to be touched.

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Hi Connie
I know what you mean - if I haven't looked at something I've written for a while, and rediscover it, I might be detached enough to respond as the reader instead of the writer. It's reassuring to recognize your own writing worked.
Thanks for commenting.