* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
I am astonished by the accuracy with which Matisse remembers the most trifling facts; he describes a room that he went into forty years ago and gives you the measurements, where every piece of furniture stood, how the light fell. He is a man of astounding precision and has little time for anything that he has not confirmed for himself. In art matters, he is not the sort to go looking for a profile fortuitously created by cracks in the wall. Elie Faure writes that Matisse is perhaps the only one of his contemporaries (in particular Marquet and Bonnard) to know exactly where he comes from and the only one who never allows it to show “because his inveterate, invincible, vigilant willpower is always focused on being himself and nothing but.”
Matisse neglects nothing. He seems to know as much about the art market as about painting.
So many stratagems to sell a painting, from intimidating the purchaser to seeming to avoid him: Vollard used them all and used them successfully. Not least the lies that he told to reassure the client. “It works like this,” says Matisse: “To make a sale, you invent lies that have somehow disappeared into thin air by the time the deal is done.”
We talk of the difficulties faced by dealers hoping to gain access to Renoir in his Cagnes residence. Renoir didn’t like having people talk to him about selling his work,” says Matisse: “It bored him. About the only one who got a foot in the door was Paul Guillaume; he dressed up as a young worker with a floppy necktie: “You see, I’m a local. I’ve always loved your painting. I’ve just inherited a little money; I’d like to buy something.”
Chatting with Henri Matisse: The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller
Comments are welcome!
That art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul,or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience – that work is received by us as a gift is received. Even if we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the piece. I went to see a landscape painter’s works, and that evening, walking among pine trees near my home, I could see the shapes and colors I had not seen the day before. The spirit of an artist’s gifts can wake our own. The work appeals, as Joseph Conrad says, to a part of our being which is itself a gift and not an acquisition. Our sense of harmony can hear the harmonies that Mozart heard. We may not have the power to profess our gifts as the artist does,and yet we come to recognize, and in a sense to receive, the endowments of our being through the agency of his creation. We feel fortunate, even redeemed. The daily commerce of our lives – “sugar for sugar and salt for salt,” as the blues singers say – proceeds at its own constant level, but a gift revives the soul. When we are moved by art we are grateful that the artist lived, grateful that he labored in the service of his gift.
If a work of art is the emanation of its maker’s gift and if it is received by its audience as a gift, then is it, too, a gift? I have framed the question to imply an affirmative answer, but I doubt we can be so categorical. Any object, any item of commerce, becomes one kind of property or another depending on how we use it. Even if a work of art contains the spirit of the artist’s gift, it does not follow that the work itself is a gift. It is what we make of it.
And yet, that said, it must be added that the way we treat a thing can sometimes change its nature. For example, religions often prohibit the sale of sacred objects, the implication being that their sanctity is lost if they are bought and sold. A work of art seems to be a hardier breed; it can be sold in the market and still emerge a work of art. But if it is true that in the essential commerce of art a gift is carried by the work from the artist to his audience, if I am right to say that where there is no gift there is no art, then it is possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a commodity. Such, at any rate, is my position. I do not maintain that art cannot be bought and sold; I do maintain that the gift portion of the work places a constraint upon our merchandising.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift
Comments are welcome.