Why have I never been bored? For more than fifty years I have never ceased to work.—Henri Matisse
For Matisse, his greatest challenges all seemed to arrive one upon another. First came his divorce from his wife of 41 years, Amélie, due in part to the artist’s continued relationship with Lydia Delectorskaya, a young Serbian refugee who had been Amélie’s companion, but more due to Matisse’s own stubbornness and insistence upon being alone. Personal relationships never were exactly his strong point. Shortly thereafter, Matisse became ill with what was later discovered to be cancer. Surgery and severe treatments challenged not only his creativity, but his ability to work, to stand for long hours, to mix paints, and to hold a brush.
Then, in the midst of all the physical challenge, came World War II. Despite the encouragement of his children and American supporters, Matisse refused to leave France. He did move to a more secluded home on the outskirts of Vence, which at least removed him from the most severe activity. Matisse was intentionally unpolitical and deliberately worked to keep his paintings as removed from politics as well. Yet, he could not avoid the challenge of worrying about the fate of his paintings in occupied France and Russia. Another challenge came as his daughter, Marguerite, and younger son Jean were fiercely involved in the French resistance. Marguerite was captured and tortured by the Gestapo, but managed to escape from a cattle car on its way to an internment camp.
Life is nothing without challenge and one never knows in advance how a challenge might affect an artist’s work. Matisse met challenge with a renewed energy that carried him through his later stages of life. His work in the face of both physical and personal adversity becomes inspirational when one realizes all that the artist had to overcome in creating those latter day works. Illness itself is a significant challenge, even with modern treatments that alone might be enough to sideline someone. Combine that with the complete crumbling of life’s other structures and most of us might just stop.
When I first get up of the morning, while making that first cup of coffee, I look at the weather forecast to see what challenge I may face in the coming day. Dry days are good, wet or cold days not so much. Schedules create a challenge that can be quite distracting. Family needs sometimes conflict with my ability to sit down and edit. Some days, just finding a sense of creative motivation is a challenge. Yet, we must go on. Challenge itself fuels our creativity. This is the reality of art.