What Matisse Taught Me Years Ago,
Which I Finally Fully Understand

I love the arts. From taking a 10-hour required art history class a half century ago while at Muskingum College to the present, I love learning about artists...especially painters. Name a painter and I will go on and on with interesting and often obscure information about them. Much of my predisposition about the arts was due to one of my professors in my junior year at Muskingum, Louie Palmer, who taught The Arts.

Photo of Louis Louie teaching The Arts
  Louie teaching The Arts

The best learning experience for me at college was when Louie asked me to be his teaching assistant during my senior year. That single opportunity changed my life. It woke me up to my personal awareness that I could teach. I have taught a wide range of humanity classes including art history at the college level in the years since.

Aside from what most people think that art history reveals, it is much broader than that knowing about individual artists. From my perspective, artistic expression is an intellectual umbrella, which covers human understanding and insights from the very earliest times. Art expresses history in various art forms. Additionally, artists express psychological aspects within their art.

Case in point. Henri Matisse was a French painter. He was not yet 20-years of age when he experienced a case of appendicitis. His mother gave him some paints, brushes, and canvases during his period of recovery. During that time, Matisse taught himself to paint. He recalled his debut to painting "a kind of paradise" when he wrote about it many years later.

Description: http://assets.loeildelaphotographie.com/uploads/event_photo/image/1590/11__MATISSE._Mus_e_Matisse_-_Nice_-_Un_photographe_de_Matisse_Lucien_Herv__-_Des_ciseaux_pour_l_ombre_et_la_lumi_re.jpg


Matisse started out as an impressionist and then moved onto post-impressionism. That was followed by Fauvism and finally modernism. This picture is one of my favorites, which he painted during his time as a Fauvist. I have liked this painting since my college years.

Description: Henri Matisse, 1911-12, La Fenetre a Tanger (Paysage vu d'une fenetre Landscape viewed from a window, Tangiers), oil on canvas, 115 x 80 cm, Pushkin Museum.jpg

Window at Tangier

Matisse started studying Vincent van Gogh, but he soon went to England and studied William Turner. Matisse observed Turner for some time. Matisse reflected upon Turner as an artist who was born too early as an impressionist and also in the wrong country. While Turner started out as a romantic painter, he soon morphed into even what I described as English impressionism...before even the French had discovered impressionism three decades later.

Description: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth

Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth

Turner's Snow Storm was painted 30-years prior to Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise, which provided the name, impressionism. Matisse was correct about his comment about Turner's being too early and in the wrong country.

Matisse moved beyond the various forms of impressionism, Fauvism, and modernism, which is interesting since he, in his life, did what he observed Turner having done. He seemed ahead of his time and willing to explore new ideas. Certainly, that was true regarding Turner.

I knew all this material 50-years ago. However, when you have danced with death and entered your twilight years, you can see life more fully than you saw it when you were young. We all tend to see and understand things more fully as we grow older, even though we thought we understood it the first time.

Another case in point. Matisse said, "I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it." At 72-years of age, I too "would like to recapture that freshness" that I see in young children. In fact, I have wrestled with my intensity of love and care that I have for Jack and Owen, my two pre-school grandchildren. Why have they affected me so greatly?

I have three adult children and a college age granddaughter. I love them, and I have fond memories with them covering decades. In spite of that, why have Jack and Owen become transformative for me? Why am I so driven about helping them as they begin their journey in life and understanding it?

Enter Matisse's observation: "I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it." That is true. As young parents, we miss a great deal of "that freshness of vision" as our children began their journey down their yellow brick roads of life. Some of that freshness becomes secondary to parenting, which is time consuming. I wish that I had slowed down and enjoyed the moments more back then. Nonetheless, I get it now and do enjoy their freshness.

Description: https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/files/2009/04/bressonmatisse.jpg

This is Matisse very late in life recapturing youthful excitement about life and learning.

However, as older grandparents, we realize that we have worried over many things that concerned us related to our children as they began their lives. Now, looking back over many decades, we realize that many of those worries, in hindsight, were not as major as we once thought. In our twilight years, we obtain a different Weltanschauung (worldview) than what we had decades before.

It is interesting how the very young children are driven. Watch an infant's determination to turn over or crawl. Once those drives have been mastered, they want to walk. The next two photos were taken without me being aware of it. Ayanna, my college age granddaughter, had just mastered walking. She wanted to go see Ra Ra, which was her name for raccoons in my backyard. However, when I was walking with Ayanna, we both were 20-years younger. I have since then danced with death a couple of times, and I understand things at an entirely different level.

Description: Al and Ayanna

Jack and I walked at the Dunes along Lake Michigan just a couple of years ago. Jack was determined about where he and I were headed. I appreciate that walk far more than when Ayanna and I went to look for Ra Ra nearly two decades ago. It feels far more than merely walking with a grandchild.

Description: Al and Jack walking on the beach

Owen and I walked and pondered many things as we walk together. What occurred with Jack and me has been replicated with Owen. All three grandchildren were excited about exploring their new world, but it is a different feeling for me since dancing with death. Trust me.

Description: Al and Owen

As with walking, all things are seen differently as you get older and also after dancing with death. Matisse's comment about recapturing the freshness of vision of youngsters is correct. We are on the same page with youngsters and their excitement.

Several weeks ago, I was discussing this with my daughter, Michelle. I was again searching for answers related to Jack and Owen. Since she has a masters degree in childhood development, I wanted her insights. For several years, I have been attempting more fully to understand why Jack and Owen mean so much to me. When I talk to anyone about them, their parents, my kids, my granddaughter, and whoever else will listen, my listeners will diss the question and say, "Just enjoy the moment." This time while talking with Michelle, I did not want a theme and variation of enjoying the moment retort.

Over an hour later of discussing this issue, I had added a couple of items to add to my ever-growing list of explanations about my relationship with Jack and Owen. Michelle interviewed me several years ago. I mentioned in that interview growing up as an above average student in an average town and moving to an excellent school system in a very wealthy community. The result was that I felt both dumb and poor. Talk about stunting being excited about life. It took me half my life to understand that I was, in fact, neither dumb nor poor. That is why I love teaching so much.

I do not want Jack and Owen to make my mistake. For years, I felt stunted since I was not above average in the 19th best school system in the entire country. It took me years to realize that being average in Mt. Lebanon meant that I was smart and not dumb and poor even though I did not grasp that reality at that time. A part of my motivation regarding Jack and Owen is protecting them from doing their math incorrectly about themselves.

Additionally, I think that I am vicariously excited about watching the two boys, in a not so vailed attempt, in some way to live through their excitement what I missed after my family moved to Mt. Lebanon. Slowly, the pieces are coming together for me. This also explains why, at 72, I am still teaching at the college level. It is my means to help other students and to experience their excitement.

On Seeing the Light

On Seeing the Light

Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.

Connecting The Dots

Connecting the Dots

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The Last Lecture

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Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death

Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.