In her biography of Matisse, Hilary Spurling relates how Matisse tried to help a friend who was sick: he took one of his bright paintings around to the person's apartment in Paris to hang on the wall, so that the illness would be washed away by contemplation of Matisse's glowing colours.
We have learned since then that art can indeed have a therapeutic effect, particularly in the making of it. There's a lot of real research to back that up. At the same time, that anecdote about Matisse is a little bit of evidence of the artist's monumental egotism: he truly could not think of a higher gift to anyone, even on their sickbed, than to own one of his pictures, even for a short while.
I am struggling at the moment with a torn muscle in my back, or rather the after-effects of an injury sustained a year ago. A lot of calcium has built up around the tear, which I'm working to eliminate by having a chiropractor adjust the spine, having a masseur give me deep-tissue massage, and other things. After one such session yesterday, I came away feeling so much better, and so grateful for the relief, that this story about Matisse came into my mind, and I thought: yes, art can heal the spirit, but if there's something physically wrong with you, there is nothing that can replace the positive effects of what a doctor can do for you.
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