Matisse & Young Men



One thing I have never looked forward to was having "the talk" with my children. I don't think I am a repressed sexual being, but I am a mom. To top it off, I am a mother of boys.

I was also raised in a household where S-E-X and B-O-D-I-E-S were not discussed. And as the saying goes, the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. My father left the den if a TV program even hinted of sexual overtones, and my mother had one of my older sisters take me to purchase my first bra at L.S. Ayres. My only go-to resource was our very curiously written and illustrated sexual/development handbook that my elementary teacher passed out in fifth grade. It certainly was a vast sea of mystery and intrigue when it came to the changes happening to my body and my friends' bodies. Nobody wanted to pull me into a safe harbor and assure me that what I had imagined bodies to become and how to perform was not as scary as the ideas I had conjured up in my teenage head.


With this as my experience, I was so happy to be married to my husband. Since I vowed to take a different approach with my boys, he would do a great job talking to the boys about puberty. I played the scene in my head: As Charley sat on the bed with the boys and explained to them the specifics of all identifiable parts, I would stand to the side of the doorway, eavesdropping and saying a silent thank-you to the gods for putting me on this side of the wall. Then their dad died and my plans were foiled. As life would have it, I would be the one sitting on their bed hemming and hawing my way through the definition of ovaries, the necessity of antiperspirant, and how certain selfies are not a good idea. Egads.

Any entry point for the boys in this subject area is welcomed. And as luck would have it, Henri Matisse and his masterworks from the Baltimore Museum cracked open the door a bit for my youngest George. Eight and still in love with his mom, George didn't know what to make of the IMA's Matisse, Life in Color exhibition. Maybe it was because his friend Josie was with us, but George was mortified to see breasts and bums stretched out on a tete-a-tete. "Mom, so gross" was the day's mantra, even though I continuously encouraged him to look at the artist's use of color and original lines. Despite that, the day was a 10 on the scale of grossness for George.

I wanted George to recognize that Matisse was in love with his art, which began after his mother bought him art supplies following an attack of appendicitis. In art, he discovered "a kind of paradise." The number of models Matisse used in his drawings and paintings were numerous, and he had a great appreciation and some type of relationship with each of them. And actually, he and his wife treated most of the models as adoptive daughters. There was a Greta, a Loulou, a Lorette, an Antoinette, a Henriette, a Lydia and an Annelies. And there were some of their unclad bodies too.

It didn't seem that those bodies and those women entranced Matisse but rather painting itself. As Matisse's legs weakened in old age, he had a great fear of going blind also "because of having flirted for too long...with these enchanted colors." Someday those enchanted colors may seduce my boys, but I can bet the breasts and bums will bewitch them more. And I'm hoping I can equip them with the best version of "the Talk" so that a Greta or a Lydia charms them most of all.


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