In 1914 Henri Matisse had a Paris studio overlooking Notre Dame cathedral. He painted the scene above left from his window view. Later in the year he painted the blue painting to the right. Can you tell they are both paintings of the same scene? If you look carefully you can see the two bell towers, prominently shaded in the blue painting. Then, look below the towers and notice the heavy black lines. It is there you can see the arch of the bridge, mirroring the same degree of curvature as the first painting — and also the street that runs above the bridge, as well as the outline of the street and walkway that run along the river.
Remarkable that two paintings can look so different, yet be of the same scene and by the same artist? These paintings remind me of the therapeutic theory of object relations. Object relations is when a person relates to others and situations in his/her adult life based in many ways, unconsciously, by their own infant/childhood family experiences.
It is not unusual to discover that one’s life has patterns. Some patterns repeat and we don’t know how to change them. We don’t know how we got stuck choosing the same job, or the same date, or having the same fight with our friend / family. In therapy there are opportunities to examine these patterns, to notice when the hidden structure becomes more obvious, to begin to relate what might have been disparate patterns into one larger cohesive structure.
Matisse was working on the nature of perception with these two paintings — also something we do in therapy, albeit differently. How do we perceive our own lives, what would we like to change? how would we like to move our lives forward to begin to resemble the vision we can see for ourselves in our minds eye? While we cannot alter the basic foundational structure of our early experiences, one does have choices in how to move forward with the overlaying art(work) that becomes one’s adult life.
These paintings are currently on view together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC until March 17, 2013. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/matisse/introduction