Wayne Koestenbaum: The Desire to Write

August 22, 2011  |  By
Filed under: Essay

Henri Matisse, _Woman with a Hat_, 1905; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, bequest of Elise S. Haas; © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Desire to Write about Woman with a Hat

Language’s impoverishment contradicts the voluptuous blue, green, orange, yellow, and purple that Matisse employs to render a woman whose hat is twice as big as her face. The green beside her head is a detail I seize to avoid being inundated by a bewildering superfluity of colors; I cling to this green as an island, a hermit’s cell, like the rock cleft where Willa Cather’s heroine Thea Kronborg, in The Song of the Lark, hides. I want to hide in Matisse’s combustible, multiform colors — especially the curvy hat’s preposterous blue. Am I espousing an aesthetics of the curve and of the swerve? Yes, but I’m also trying to be straightforward. I’d rather paint than write; now, with an unaccustomed sobriety of tone, I’m trying to contemplate why I might want to write about Woman with a Hat, and what I might say about Woman with a Hat were I to begin the unmanageable project of writing about it.

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