This is the word that comes to mind when you are having a cup of earl grey tea facing the view like this:

Lake Annecy, view from Duingt

Serenity is defined as the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. Google spits out innumerable landscapes of “lake+forest+mountains less wind”. My photo – however serene it may be – adds nothing to what Google already knows. Besides landscapes, Google also offers a few yoga drawings in response to “serenity”, and I assume those who practice these four-letter exercises are blessed to be so serene they never use the other (and more widely applied) four-letter word.

There was an artist though, whose objective in art was to disseminate serenity. Matisse.

He wrote, What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.

Matisse had a very clear concept of what he thought Art should do, and it is the south pole to the north pole of contemporary art, which is often provocative, negative, disturbing, damienhirsting our senses (did you read it as “damn hurting”?) by rotting meat in glass cages.

Matisse provided this armchair NOT by the means of landscapes (which he disliked), but by being a “lifestyle” painter (just like we have “lifestyle” magazines nowadays, thrown around waiting tables at hairdressers and hotels) focusing on the human body. Like here, in “Luxury, Serenity and Pleasure”:

Henri Matisse. Luxury, serenity and pleasure. 1904.

This serenity is built from clashing, conflicting colours, something you don’t see in a photograph about serenity. All figures in the painting are doing something that requires a strain of muscles, there are a lot of activities happening before this moment and during this moment but the viewer, especially at first sight gets the feeling of pure relaxation and carelessness. This is something that a photograph can not do, because it does not exist in reality. It is a pure play of Matisse’s imagination, but the feeling of serenity we get is nonetheless very real. This is new to google even today.

Four years later Matisse would be working on his Dance, the ultimate dream of harmony and serenity, full of movement and the joy of life. You can read about the Dance’s peculiar relationship with one Renaissance artist here.

I’d love to see links to your favourite serenity photographs and paintings (or, perhaps, sculptures) especially the ones that you think can be new to Google! )


      1. Thanks! Feel free to leave a comment below the post to share your reaction with other visitors to my blog. Cheers.

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