Thursday, May 17, 2007

Turner as the link

Matisse, on his honeymoon in London, made his pilgrimage to view the Turners in the National Gallery. As Spurling puts it, "For Matisse,...Turner was a link between the present and the past, a way of reconciling the traditional realism of his native North with the lure of pure color which already beckoned him so fiercely. He described Turner's impact nearly fifty years later, at a moment when his own recovery from a near-fatal operation had made the world once again look fresh and sparkling. It is Matisse's most brilliant evocation in words of a window opening on a new world, a period of radiant bliss after unhappiness and self-denial." (Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, p. 156)

And what were those words?

Matisse: "It is always a good thing to begin with renunciation, to impose a regime of abstinence on yourself from time to time. Turner lived in a cellar. Once a week he had the shutters suddenly flung open, and then what incandescence! what dazzlement! what jewels!"

Tension between realism and pure color. Abstinence and release. Energy, energy, energy.

6 comments:

James said...

That's certainly interesting. Makes me wonder who does it and if it helps them . . .

Jee Leong Koh said...

Coming out as gay so late in life, I've felt the pent-up energies released into my poems, so I can partly understand what Matisse says. But to cork up the genie again? Now that takes discipine and sacrifice.

Rui said...

to deliberately 'impose a regime of abstinence' on oneself for the sake of one's art... hmm... i've got mixed feelings about that one. i think it's got something to do with the feeling that it seems to reduce the individual to an automaton, albeit a fairly complex one, for which certain physical / psychological behaviours can have predictable consequences... Which, i suppose, is the assumption we base our daily lives on - it's just that used so deliberately for the sake of art, it seems... almost scary.

sorry if i'm not totally making sense - i'm just trying to articulate a vague sense of unease.

secondly, i was about to say, perhaps that's why Hopkins' poetry is so powerful. that sense of reined-in energy. i'm a great hopkins fan btw. he's more or less my favourite poet.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks, rui, for sharing your response to the idea of deliberate abstinence. I wonder if you feel the same way towards athletes abstaining from alcohol and smokes, or taoist priests abstaining from sex in order to build up qi? I'm guessing that part of our unease about an artist's deliberate abstinence for his art is due to our idea of spontaneous artistic inspiration. Athletes and saints, we expect, undergo disciplinary regimes; artists are free spirits, not complex machines. I think the body and mind are so co-dependent, that artists try all ways to influence one in the hope of influencing the other, thus opium, drink, sex, and, yes, abstinence.

Rui said...

actually, to be very honest, (and i hate admitting this), my unease is not because i subscribe to the view of artistic inspiration as being spontaneous or from some sort of mysterious source etc. in the first place, i am a great believer in the necessity of discipline and sacrifice in any worthwhile pursuit. in the second place, i don't have such an exalted view of art. i have to confess, reluctantly, that my unease is because i wonder, in my confused sitting-on-the-fence way, if art is worth the sacrifice.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi rui, thanks for the frank confession. :-) Art is not worth the sacrifice, which is why artists are either insane or egomaniacal, at the very least, badly adjusted.