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.