In his work, Notes of a Painter, Matisse explores the nature of art, as well as the evolution of his artistic style and the possible routes that it may take in the future. According to Matisse, the artist who tends to present their opinion on a certain societal issue in their works exposes themselves to a range of threats. The threat of being misinterpreted is one of them; however, Matisse also notes that art evolves together with an artist, therefore, leading to different interpretations of the same idea by the same person in the specified time slot. As a result, while the purpose of an artwork may be the same, the path to fulfilling it may change.
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The change in the expressivity of an art piece may lead to an erroneous idea that the mere concept of expression concerns a particular aspect of a painting, e.g., the elements incorporated in it, the movement of the brush, etc. Instead, the phenomenon of expressionism should be interpreted as the arrangement of the picture and the perspective from which a certain idea is scrutinized. As a result, any element that does not contribute to the overall concept of expressionism and breaks the harmony thereof should be viewed as alien and, thus, discarded.
Composition as another aspect of painting, in turn, depends heavily on the format of the art piece. The choice of the medium with the help of which a specific idea is going to be expressed defines the arrangement of the elements in the painting and, thus, predetermines the composition thereof to a considerable degree. Similarly, an artist must have a deep understanding of harmonies, dissonances, and how they can be used to convey a specific message to the viewer so that the way in which harmonies and dissonances combine in an art piece could give food for thoughts even years after the art piece was painted.
The concentration of experiences, which a painting must incorporate, must offer the viewer a chance to explore the superficiality of the phenomenon or concept that is represented in the painting and, therefore, search for a truer idea that underlies the message in the art piece. Matisse specifies that there are two means of expressing a certain concept, i.e., a crude, unaesthetic one, and the one that implies the use of art. Therefore, by refraining from portraying the physical aspects in which the phenomenon manifests itself, i.e., the actual movement, one becomes capable of creating an art piece. The lack of stability, by which a movement is characterized, makes the task of representing it as an art form even more difficult, yet not impossible.
Therefore, before creating a painting, Matisse defines what is going to be portrayed on the canvas. The artist uses color as the key tool for expressing the essence of his message in the canvas. Furthermore, a careful use of tones may alter the message significantly and, thus, change the way in which the viewers perceive it. In other words, Matisse questions the theory of complementary colors as the means of expressing an idea in the form of a painting.
Instead, of the theory of complementary colors, the concepts of harmony and balance must be promoted as the foundation for creating an expressionist art piece. At the same time, however, a true artist must remember that rules are supposed to help identify a pattern in art and not define it. Therefore, Matisse mentions that years after his time, an entirely different set of ideas may be introduced as the foundational principles of understanding and interpreting art.