Throughout his long and productive 84-year career, world-renown French artist, Henri Matisse (1869-1953), continually redirected his creative energies by tackling at least six different styles of painting, sculpture, paper cut-outs, illustrated books, architectural design and stained-glass windows.
And, all of this happened after Matisse had launched his first career as a lawyer! Yes, a lawyer. When he was eighteen, Matisse’s father encouraged him to study law in Paris. For two years, Matisse did brilliantly even though he found law boring and totally uninspiring, and then he was struck down with appendicitis. To ease his convalescence, his mother brought him a box of art supplies. Matisse said, “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life.” His father was deeply disappointed, but his mother, whose art had been limited to painting designs on porcelain, advised her son not to adhere to the “rules” of art, but rather listen to his own emotions. And that is what Matisse did – over and over again – as he was living his art.
He began painting still-lives and landscapes in the traditional Flemish style, but quickly transitioned to Impressionism, painting his first masterpiece The Dinner Table in 1897. The French traditionalists denounced it and, discouraged by their response, Matisse briefly turned to sculpture. Though he did not pursue this for long, it continued to influence form in his painting for the rest of his life.
His next style, Modernism, was influenced by such post-Impressionists as Paul Cézanne and Gauguin. From there, he dabbled in Pointillism and Naturalism. That’s five stylistic reinventions so far in this his second career. His sixth came in 1905, when he was considered the leader of the Fauve painting movement.
Over the next 36 years, he created hundreds of masterpieces until he was diagnosed with cancer in 1941 and the surgery necessitated he use a wheelchair. Physically diminished, his creativity soared to new heights. He called what was to be his last 14 years, “Une seconde vie,” a second life. He created his vibrant cut paper collages, and described the process as “painting with scissors.” His assistants helped him mount the cut-outs on the walls of his room and he said, “You see, as I am obliged to remain often in bed because of the state of my health, I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk… There are leaves, fruits, a bird.” Then, in 1947 he published Jazz, a brilliant, limited-edition book containing prints of his colorful cut paper collages.
Lastly, Matisse’s final reinvention was to design in 1951 the interior and the stained-glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence.
Matisse was a genius at reinvention – an inspiration to all of us to try it at least once. The good news is that there’s lots of help out there. Here are four great places to start:
Seth Godin, marketing guru, entrepreneur, and best-selling author of fourteen books that have been translated into more than thirty languages, has written, Why We Are All Artists. In his online conversation he describes how we are all “capable of making a difference, of being bold, and of changing more than we are willing to admit. We are capable of making art.”
The Idea Champions share 50 Ways to Foster Innovation. This blog post is about developing a culture of sustainable innovation in organizations, but the same principles apply to individual lives, as well.
From the Harvard Business Review Blog, check out, How to Master a New Skill.
And don’t miss Kerry Hannon’s terrific new book, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work that Keeps You Healthy and Happy, and Pays the Bills, which was named book-of-the-month in the Washington Post’s “Color of Money Book Club“.
Happy New Year and Happy New You!