Confusion, Self-doubt, & Art

Image: Henri Matisse, The Red Studio (1911). Oil on canvas

This past Tuesday, my Curating in Europe class visited the Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) to check out 11 of Matisse’s works, with 10 centered around his masterpiece, The Red Studio (the exhibit takes its name after this central piece). Beyond the incredible design, the exhibit’s popularity came from the fact that it reunited all of the works featured in The Red Studio for the first time in over 100 years. The museum was buzzing with attendees itching to see this exhibit and specifically The Red Studio– but this piece didn’t simply come into existence with the acclaim of a masterpiece. After its creation, the piece was outright rejected by the owner it was intended for (Russian art collector and patron of Matisse, Sergei Shchukin) and fell into relative obscurity, collecting dust in a storage room for 12 years. This point of Matisse’s career was characterized by self-doubt and uncertainty, and in an interview he gave with a Hungarian journalist, he stated “Where I got the color red, to be sure– I just don’t know.”

“I like it, but I don’t quite understand it; I don’t know why I painted it precisely the way I did.”

How could such a famous and career-defining piece as The Red Studio have marked a period in Matisse’s life and career where he felt the most lost? While reading the backstory for this piece, I felt a sort of relation to this loss of direction and place (because I can definitely relate to a world-famous master painter, mhm). Before studying abroad, I outlined seemingly very simple goals for myself: explore and have fun. A preliminary formula to achieve these goals primarily consisted of seeking out the coziest cafes, venturing out to interesting museums and castles, hosting sick dinner parties, living out the hygge lifestyle, etc. etc. But when it comes down to it, there’s actually quite a lot that goes into happiness, even when you’re abroad in a gorgeous and exciting new city (shocker, right?)! I could be sitting in the most aesthetically pleasing, perfectly-heated, amazingly-lit cafe after a wonderful day of museum visits and sunset biking and still feel like I’m doing everything wrong and I haven’t actually figured anything out (so much for my happiness formula). It’s difficult to grapple with feelings of happiness and excitement alongside an almost constant sense of confusion– like I’ve completely lost my sense of direction during my time here. This is a pretty accurate depiction of the alphabet soup that is my brain on an average day– which internship deadlines do I have this week should I be considering grad school what is my housing situation for next year am I talking to my friends and family enough how do I even save money in the most expensive city in the world when I eat enough granola to feed a family of 5?????

I honestly don’t really know if I have a tidbit of wisdom to share (sorry, guys), but I guess the point of this post is about accepting the nonlinearity of life. My time abroad isn’t supposed to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together or unlock some sort of checkpoint that allows my life to progress further, and I shouldn’t expect it to. The confusion, emotions, and setbacks I’m experiencing right now are absolutely normal and I just need to keep pushing that boulder. Who knows– maybe my moments and memories here, regardless of the self-doubt I’m experiencing, will serve as a foundation for what’s to come next (or in the not-so-immediate future, since life doesn’t logically progress like a novel or video game, silly). Even Matisse still kept a sense of fondness for his Red Studio days when his last completed oil painting, Large Red Interior, was a not-so-subtle nod to his earlier work (the circle-of-life aspect that this added to his career really fascinated me). Vi ses!

xoxo- olivia! 🙂


2 thoughts on “Confusion, Self-doubt, & Art

  1. You are such a talented writer. I felt like I was visiting the museum with you. You’ve already accomplished so much. Don’t doubt yourself. Think back on the good times and the fact that you earned your spot there. You be you Olivia! You are amazing.


  2. The Matisse tie-in for your own narrative is really, really nice! You have a great skill in tying your journey to art and literature and teaching me things while making it all flow seamlessly 🙂


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