Last night I joined a crowd at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting & Sculpture to hear Rebecca Rabinow speak about an exhibit she curated for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Matisse: In Search of True Painting”. When I saw the event in the spring lecture catalog, I wasn’t exactly sure what it would be about, other than Matisse, of course. But, was he under the impression that some painting was false? Were the curators implying that his paintings weren’t all true? What exactly is true painting?
As I settled into the lecture, what I found most interesting was that Matisse wasn’t born an artistic genius, in the way that Michelangelo or Beethoven were considered prodigies. He worked hard at it, only becoming a painter in middle age and after teaching himself by copying masters. Even when he became recognized for his work, he still wasn’t satisfied, often repainting, re-evaluating and even re-doing his work in an entirely different style, while keeping the subject matter the same.
Because of this, we’re left with a large collection of multiple versions of his paintings, like thisStill Life with Purro 1, 1904 and Still Life with Purro 2, 1904-5:
After the lecture, a woman asked about the exhibit’s name and Dr. Rabinow revealed that the phrase had come from a letter Matisse wrote about wanting to “push further and deeper into true painting”, which referred to his need to iterate and to refine in a measured way, from one painting to the next. He was so riveted by the process of painting that he required an exhibition in post-World War II Paris to be hung with his accompanying progress photographs—an expensive demand—so viewers would see how he arrived at the finished work, or, his true painting. The entire focus of Rabinow’s particular exhibit is to show that aspect of Matisse’s work: the pairs, trios and series that he created all in the search of truth in his work.
As she spoke I thought about what we do for brands—there’s an inherent essence, a story behind a brand that we need to express through its words, values, imagery and actions. But, how do we know which direction to take? Much like Matisse, we start with an idea and push and pull at it until we reach a brand’s true voice, which reveals itself to us during the creative process. Like Matisse, that process is as vital and important to us as the finished work.