The Relentless Reviser

henri matisse-young-sailor I & II (1906)

The path to excellence.  Study the best in the field. Develop lifelong habits. Continuously revise and improve. (Kaizen.)  Practice.  Have a critical eye with your own work.  Be sure to focus on the process as it is as important as the output. Pursue your field of passion despite the views of your critics.  There are no shortcuts to excellence – it takes incredible focus and effort.  Same old, same old?  Yes.  It worked for Matisse.  And it will work for you and me.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954), along with Picasso and Duchamp, was regarded as one of three artists who helped define art and sculpture in the 20th century.  There is a Matisse show on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until March 17th, 2013.  There is an exceptional review of the show in titled The Relentless Reviser.  Below I share excerpts from the review that are applicable to many of us in our fields:

  • He systematically studied the components of color, line and form that made up his new style to explore how they could be “combined without diminishing the eloquence of any of them”
  • Lifelong habit of working in pairs and images which allowed him to explore his options, to gauge his progress, and as he described, “to push further and deeper into true painting
  • Although other early-20th-century artists, such as Picasso, frequently repeated subjects and motifs, only Matisse in this period used his paired and serial paintings as part of an intensely analytical practice to illuminate the potentials—and perils—inherent in his new art. His cautious deliberations, however, as manifested throughout this show, would yield some of the most radical and beautiful paintings of his era.
  • Like generations of artists before him, Matisse, as a student in Paris in the 1890s, copied the Old Masters to absorb the legacy of the past; in the following decade, he began, in a similar fashion, to study the work of contemporary artists.
  • his endlessly reworked canvases
  • Matisse turned an equally critical eye on his own work in paintings from this period that pushed his art to a radical new stance. In 1906 in the southern French village of Collioure, he painted “Young Sailor I,” a stunning portrait from life of a boyish-looking figure sitting sullenly on a straight-backed chair and staring out at us. Its rugged, sketchlike paint surface, applied over a pencil underdrawing, again recalled Cézanne. But when paired, as it is here, with Matisse’s second, more synthetic version, the planar, curving rhythms and masklike face of “Young Sailor II” reveal the abstract formal implications Matisse discovered in the earlier work, and suggest the bold autonomy the artist enjoyed at a distance from his subject and precursor.
  • By 1945, when Matisse again enjoyed critical acclaim, such photographs had become crucial to his public persona. One of the final rooms in the show re-creates part of a historic exhibition that year at the Galerie Maeght in Paris, where the artist displayed his new works surrounded by numerous photographs that documented the phases of their creation. It underscored to viewers then, as it does in the current show, that his process had become as important to Matisse as his painting.

Sources: Image – The Masterpiece Cards. The Relentless Reviser


  1. Which painting came first? Informative post.


  2. Consider, revise, consider…new approach, changed perspective. It isn’t about inventing a better mousetrap, it’s about looking at the mousetrap from another angle and seeing it’s different dimensions. Perhaps people would be less reluctant to consider evocative thinking (particularly at work I think), if they approached it this way, with the end game simply being the understanding of the dimensionality of what they do. And if it propels a needed change and movement, so much the better..


  3. I was wondering the same. I actually prefer the one on the left too.


  4. Excellent post and timely. I am finishing what will likely be the most broadly distributed magazine story to date. This post was a timely reminder to trust the process…Thanks, DK


  5. Or, as I’ve often said to my clients, it’s a process…

    Coincidentally, was planning to hit up the Met today for a tour of the Matisse exhibit as well as George Bellows, another artist on display. The Northeast Snowbeast stopped me so postponed to this weekend.

    Am in the midst of watching a documentary on the art movement emanating from Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Picasso, Braque, Chagall, etc along with music and dance that included Stravinsky and Nijinsky, writers like Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and on and on. What a fantastic time!

    The documentary – Paris: The Luminous Years – can be found here,

    After that, watch one of my favorites – Midnight in Paris via Woody Allen. the actor who plays Hemingway is fabulous.

    Thanks for getting the energy flowing this morning, Dave!

    – Jeff


    • I read your comment yesterday Jeff. Inspiring then and inspiring now. Would like to hear your thoughts on the Matisse exhibit. Upcoming post on your blog, maybe? Guest post on my blog. I’ll be grateful for just about anything. 🙂


  6. Lessons from the masters. So true. The relentless search for just the perfect color, or movement, or vocation, keeps so many of us going. Good year end post. Wishing you health and happiness.


  7. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    Wow. Where else can I get laughter, exposure to musicians I’ve never heard of, great quotes and images, thoughts to ponder, and even an art history?
    You still keep blowing me away, Dave.


    • I’m flattered (very) by your kind words LaDona. But let’s drop a few facts on the table. I’m attracted to that which I know little about. I was challenged in understanding the art review in the referenced article above. I didn’t see much beauty in most art for years. I’m playing catch up. And now I find that I see beauty in most art forms. So, it’s safe to say that I couldn’t explain much about art (or music) for that matter. But I know what I love in what I see and hear. Simple basis, but that’s where I am.


  8. Alex Jones says:

    I made a note of the advice of Matisse.


  9. Alex Jones says:

    Did not know about the philosophy of Kaizen. As always you are an oyster bed containing pearls of wisdom.


  10. The left painting has an edgy feel to it. 🙂 Excellent!

    Happy new years my friend. 🙂

    Say, do you have skype?


    • Yes, it does. Happy New Year to you too. No, I don’t have Skype. I’m having trouble keeping up with email, twitter, blackberries and the 14 other forms of communications that blitz me hourly. Sorry. If there is anything that I can help with, best way to reach me is on email @


  11. ” there is no shortcut to excellence” love and will use it in my New Years meeting….thanks


  12. The best part of life is when people remember and admire what you have done when you are gone =) A life after life… This one is for you Dave,
    “You actually Die twice in this world once when you stop breathing and a second time several years later when somebody says your name for the last time. So do things that matter; leave a legacy. Time is running out.”


  13. Wonderful post, Dave. Matisse is one of my favourite artists. — reblogged this on tumblr.


  14. Wonderful analysis, thank you!!!!! Comparing the depth of spiritual darkness and intensity of angst in the first painting, and the progress of spiritual lightness of th artists soul through the expression of lighter hues is the clear demarcation of spiritual progress.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. […] David Kanigan in his blog “The Relentless Reviser” mentioned the concept of Kaizen. Meaning in Japanese “good change” Kaizen is better described in English as “continuous improvement”.  By following Kaizen each individual reviews their life processes in relation to their goals looking for small improvements each day which helps them achieve their goals faster, efficiently and effectively.  A.T. Bui recently added to this concept of Kaizen in his blog yesterday called “The 80/20 Principle”: […]


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