Creatively Speaking

In 1941, at the height of his fame, Henri Matisse, the internationally recognized painter whose daring use of colors and shape had dazzled the art world, suffered a devastating setback.

Books from the collection of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities. (photo credit: COURTESY OF PAGINE EBRAICHE)
Books from the collection of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF PAGINE EBRAICHE)
In 1941, at the height of his fame, Henri Matisse, the internationally recognized painter whose daring use of colors and shape had dazzled the art world, suffered a devastating setback.
The onset of abdominal cancer caused him to be confined to a wheelchair, thus making it very difficult for him to paint standing in front of an easel.
He was devastated.
However, the very frightening thought of not being able to continue painting drove him to find a solution.
And that’s where a simple pair of scissors changed his life and enriched ours as well.
In the last dozen years of his life, Matisse created some of his most famous images with those very scissors, cutting delightful one-dimensional shapes out of colorful sheets of paper.
German composer Ludwig van Beethoven underwent a similar traumatic experience at age 30, when he began to lose his sense of hearing.
In fact, his Ninth Symphony, composed between 1822 and 1824, was almost certainly created when he was totally deaf.
And yet, he, too, found a solution that allowed him to continue creating. His “pair of scissors” was an ordinary wooden stick. Beethoven placed one end in his mouth, the other end on his piano, and when striking a key, he would feel the faint vibrations of the musical note.
What compelled those two creative giants to discover unconventional solutions is really quite simple and our point: the drive and determination to continue creating.
A more modern-day innovator, perhaps not as famous as Matisse or Beethoven, is a Jewish New Yorker named Herb Lubalin (1918-1981), renowned for his typographical solutions and magazine design.
Here is what he came up with, as he was tasked with designing a logo for a magazine called Mother and Child.
And although the publication never saw the light of day, the masthead design, thankfully, lives on to inspire us.
Here are some other examples, perhaps motivated by Lubalin’s originality.
They, too, make good use of one’s creative juices to explore and solve communication challenges in a unique manner.
What these all have in common is the notion that one need not be satisfied with standard ideas, but should rather be encouraged to think out of the box.
My name is Ben Herskowitz, and I have been working creatively in many capacities for as long as I can remember.
I have dabbled in such fields as graphic design, photography, painting, sculpture, jewelry design, mosaic work, Web design, and have authored two Amazon best-selling children’s books, along the way.
In fact, we find that the Jewish tradition highly values creativity – even assigning it a godly characteristic.
The tractate Brachot (page 10) imaginatively explains the words of Hannah the Prophetess “ayn tzur ke’Elohaynu” – which literally translates to “there is no rock like our God” – to mean “ayn tzayar ke’Elohaynu,” there exists no greater artist than God.
When we are creative, we emulate God, the ultimate Creator.
In addition, I would love for the examples of Matisse and Beethoven to serve as a springboard to inspire and motivate others to experience the thrill of creativity, too.
Let’s jump right in.