Musings on Matisse & Being A Disabled Artist

[O: This is loosely edited, so please enjoy my train of thought here.]

I recently read a wonderful article written by Kim Hart of, the subject about the general lessons of ‘how to be an artist’ featuring Henri Matisse this go around. I love Matisse and his approach to expressionism, with that becoming Fauvism during his early years long ago. Many artists followed and learned from him and his work and approach and reasoning as to how he saw the world. His creativity was unique. You can indulge in the four lessons shared from findings of his journaling in the article on Artsy.

What I would like to speak about today is the intersection of disability and the arts, and being a disabled artist. I am a disabled artist who lives with both physical and mental disabilities. I live with now severe carpal tunnel that I cannot afford to get treated, and need medication to wrangle in my multiple mental diagnoses that previously inhibited my creation and restricted me to producing lesser quality work, and less often. Seeing as the medical treatment I sought for my mental health has been a success, it is no longer impeding me. My focus specifically will be on the physical disability and how that continues to impede me as an artist. Adapting is one thing disabled people are genuinely good at, because we have to be. I will speak of these things, and my thoughts on my future as a disabled artist.

I bring up Matisse due to the facts of his later life, after a life-saving surgery that freed him of duodenal intestinal cancer, it made him unable to paint the way he used to. Though, his spirit did not give up the desire to create. Matisse’s lesson is his fourth one in the article: “Don’t let anything keep you from making art.”

This lesson also is one that a professor of mine from college told me and our class. I would overhear multiple conversations over my years there between him and other students, typically over what stood in the way of a student excelling in a class they were clearly interested in. Usually life, work, etc would get in the way, and his solution always was that you have to find a way. Even if its just little bits at a time. As someone who survived both debilitating mental illnesses, and transitioning + coming out to my professors and classmates, to get towards the now near end of my college career, I remembered these words a lot on days I could barely manage to draw anything but a little sketch or nothing at all. To read them again in the Matisse article on a day when my carpal tunnel is flaring up just had me begin thinking a lot.

Matisse adapted to his new disability, notably seeing “it as an opportunity for new beginnings. He reorganized his bedroom so that everything he needed to make art was within reach: a bedside table with drawers containing art supplies; a revolving bookcase holding classics and dictionaries; and a wooden board placed atop his knees, upon which he made sketches and sculptures.” (Hart) This was the spirit of adaptation and his desire to not let anything keep him from making art. Even when later on in his years he lost the entire ability to paint, he still worked in paper cutouts that were hand painted with different hues by his assistants. One in modern day however could buy packs of different colour paper to alleviate the need for assistance. Reading about Matisse and his non-stop desire to create inspires me as a disabled artist. There will always be a way.

I don’t see myself living without struggle regarding my carpal tunnel these upcoming five years of my life and so on beyond that. Currently I am in the middle stage of trying to secure a job that would pay enough for me to get treatment for my carpal tunnel, possibly surgery to release the tension in my wrists and hands. I fear by the time I get there the damage will be too far gone to do anything about it though. I have to mentally prepare myself to handle adapting to new ways to make art, and new things to do.

Today I have started switching my fingers used for my computer mouse, moving just one over and allowing my index finger to not have to do any clicking anymore. I click with my middle finger, scroll with the ring, and use the right click with the pinkie finger now to release the tension and stress on the index to elbow line of nerves. This was recommended by a good friend of mine on Twitter, WoopVonWoop. You can follow her on Twitch here for when she returns to streaming after the hate raids are banished for good. Anyways, it is an awkward way to use a mouse but it is helping.

This was the original tweet that I QRT’d which had her comment the suggestion above. It reminded me that I have to treat myself like a real athlete because when you draw every day, you truly are one.

After reading this I immediately went to ice and heat my hands. It reminded me of being in roller derby and having to do that for my ankles and feet and knees when needed. As serious as a athlete takes themelves, all artists disabled or not should be treating their bodies like one, I have decided after seeing many people discuss this stuff lately. I am also getting back into the habit of wearing a brace at night for my wrists when I go to sleep. Looking for anything new to try, really, to try to relieve some of this pain at home.

Reading about Matisse and his situation has me assured I will most likely face similar challenges in my life as I continue down my path as a disabled artist. As I have reached 30 this year in 2021, I already am facing more health issues and my year’s goal is to get it all in order again. To attempt to survive and set myself up for better habits to take care of myself now and in the future. I hope to be able to adapt as easily and confidently as he did if things get even more challenging as I continue to age.

Lastly, I think disabled voices need to be heard and our art is a big part of that. This will be a topic I approach in my upcoming webcomic in 2024, ‘Another Side’, too. It follows Amalgam, an elven youth who deals with disability of their own, taking on a world of challenges. Adaptation in the face of difficulty is going to be a present theme I want to explore.

Before I go, however, I’ll jought down and recap some general ideas for helping carpal tunnel pain for any other artists out there suffering and needing some tips:

  • Ice first, heat second, on any strains or injured or over-pushed/flaring up body parts
  • Move your mouse hand over by 1 finger, using Middle, Ring, and Pinkie instead of your Index.
  • Wear a wrist brace at night when you sleep, not tightly bound.
  • Do your stretches. Provided below are things I refer to daily as guides:

These ones above are wonderful because I appreciate the specific time frame you are supposed to do them by. It is a lot to get used to at first, but once you do, you’ll be ready for your breaks as you go and really benefit from them.

By Kaitlin Bruder, sourced from Creative Bloq

You can also get a permanent reminder of this one for your workspace from her Redbubble shop.

One more, I’ll leave you with some to undo the damage of sitting all the time too. I know I need to keep doing this one more often:

As a disabled artist, I hope to continue to get to make the art that I love and live for even despite my slowly deteriorating mobility. Disabled people see the world in a unique way. We can still make the most of the life we have and you can too, with what you have. There is no unnecessary expectation to produce at an abled person’s rate. Matisse wrote in his journal once, post-surgery, “I’m still here. I concentrate on one thing only—my work, for which I live,” … and I hope to live for my work too, proud of being disabled while I make it. I hope you can find pride in your work too and always be able to do what you want in your way.

Thanks for reading, stay safe, take care of yourself. ❤

One thought on “Musings on Matisse & Being A Disabled Artist

  1. “As serious as an athlete takes themelves, all artists disabled or not should be treating their bodies like one…” ❤ ❤ ❤

    i love the self care tips and exercise guides you included at the end!

    also lol i didn't realize you were in your 30s. i thought you were closer to my age XD.

    Liked by 1 person

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