On Self-Doubt

This short anecdote on Henri Matisse should resonate with anyone involved in any sort of creative work:

Matisse's continuing self-doubt is revealed in the story of his encounter with a group of schoolgirls in a Nice gallery where some of his paintings were on display. Years later one of the schoolgirls remembered, "At one moment we all stopped dead in front of a picture we couldn't understand... To our eyes, conditioned to perfect classical art, that work appeared as just 'bad.'" Matisse happened to be walking incognito among the students and heard their negative comments. When a girl asked him if he were Matisse, he did not identify himself, but when the group was about to leave he took their teacher aside and apologized for his lie. He said he had been afraid of the children's criticism: "I believe they are the only ones who see rightly, and for the moment I hate that picture in my heart for having shocked the eyes of a child, even if the critics should call it a masterpiece."
--from Matisse: A Portrait by Hayden Herrera

This story shocked me, to be honest. Matisse was one of history's greatest artists. If he gets down on himself when a schoolgirl criticizes him, who am I to have any confidence at all--about anything?

Then again, maybe there's an alternative, more encouraging way to think about this story. Yes, Matisse was one of history's greatest artists, but he's also a human being subject to self-doubt. Just like all the rest of us. But his self-doubt didn't stop him from creating. In fact, Matisse later went on to create some of his best-known works, including his famous late-career collages and cut-outs. It didn't stop him.

Maybe self-doubt is normal, and you just have to manage it--survive it--as best you can. But yet you still have the obligation to keep working, keep producing.

It's just another way to think about it. And framing it up this way makes me feel kind of lucky that sometimes, every so often, I get a random moment without self-doubt.

Readers, what do you think?

[Cross-posted at Quick Writing Tips]


María Machón said...

I love this! And I totally agree with your conclusion. I am starting to think that when something is important to you you should do it in spite of self-doubt and criticism. Otherwise you might be missing the chance of reaching, even touching someone, even if it is only one person. That one person can be worth standing the criticism of 100. This said, I am not saying that it is easy.

Daniel said...

That's a *great* insight Maria. Thank you!