I like art. I would never include myself in the ranks of people who know a lot about/understand art. Every once in a while I have an experience of art that leaves me changed in some way. Back in the spring I had such an experience when M and I saw the “Paires et Series” Matisse show at the Pompidou in Paris. 

The impetus of our trip was not to look at art, it was to open ourselves up to the rich culinary landscape of Paris, to fill ourselves up with inspiration for our new venture. By day three we were shamefully admitting to one another that we were underwhelmed by the food- Gasp! Amid the lackluster meals there were a couple stunners (many of them cheese related)- just fewer than we had anticipated. The upshot to being undazzled by the food was that we stopped feeling like we were missing out on culinary treasures by doing other things.

And so we went, unencumbered to the Centre Pompidou- minutes from the apartment we had rented- and they happened to have this Matisse exhibit. There was quite a line so I had plenty of time to read the tiny pamphlet where they reduce an artist’s life and works to 3-5 pithy paragraphs. This exhibit showed off works he completed in a series, for example he might paint the same object or scene a few times and alter the focus or perspective in each version. There was a sentence in the description of Matisse and the exhibit that stuck with me. It was a statement that indicated that no one knows for certain if the series works were the result of his self-doubt and critical nature, or his interest in exploring the artistic process.

Taking in these series was akin to looking at photographs or elements of a stop action film seeing slight variations of something captured and displayed adjacent to one another- sometimes forming a progression, sometimes merely shifting your perception of an object or setting. Winding through this exhibit was breathtaking, and I could see Matisse falling on either side of that memorable sentence– riddled with self-doubt, or confident explorer– and this buoyed my hopes for our new venture more than the most delectable morsel of food could have ever done.

First and foremost, the idea that anyone as gifted as Matisse would ever have doubted himself is at once ridiculous and comforting to consider. Almost more importantly, I could see that there was tremendous freedom his decision to show the progression of his works, to honor the truth that there is always another perspective that could be explored and let yourself off the hook for getting it spot on or capturing everything the first time.

I’ve held this Matisse dichotomy in mind many times as we hurtle through the next few weeks towards opening. Each time I get in touch with the great vulnerability in what we’re about to do and am nearly paralyzed with fear I try to recall the beauty of the series in that exhibit- and often that creates enough room for me to move again, towards our next iteration.