Wayne Koestenbaum: The Desire to Write

August 22, 2011  |  By
Filed under: Essay

Henri Matisse, _Landscape: Broom_, 1906; 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 Landscape: Broom

The looseness with which Matisse applied oil paint to his pencil sketch, in Landscape: Broom, 1906, a miniaturized venture into the louche and the smudged, inspires in me a wish to practice, in my own life, an analogous looseness — whether a looseness of morals (I will allow myself a variety of unsanctioned sexual escapades, and I’ll vow not to berate myself afterward) or a looseness of writerly technique, whereby I launch into the sentence’s open field without a plan, accompanied only by a wish to intensify my experience of random greens, violets, and pinks. My desire to write about this looseness — Matisse’s combination of chromatic opulence and austere omission — is a desire to participate in a practice of attentiveness that doesn’t shut down, out of prudence or shyness, when writing begins. Attentiveness intensifies as the sentence progresses; the writing session, whether fifteen minutes or two hours, affords a plein air openness to mental stimulation. I write to multiply occasions for stimulation and to magnify my power to experience pleasure. The pinkish-orange center of Matisse’s composition contains white horizontal brushstrokes, which seem to be moving left to right, as if striving to approach a blue semicircle that is itself yearning to approach a tree where small black and green strokes — animals, shrubs, or flowers — huddle. The purples and the oranges (especially the orange tree trunks) stimulate my body (I inhale more deeply, as if gasping); I don’t want to brag about my hypersusceptibility to purple and to orange, but I didn’t fly all the way to San Francisco from New York to lie to you about my clandestine relationship to color.

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