“…to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly, the most popular, great painter of all time, the most beloved. His command of color the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty.Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world…no one had ever done it before. Perhaps, no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.” - [x]
I wanted to write something deep but realised that there is no word that convey how deeply these words touches me. When I started to fall apart my late teens, I developed a passion for this man. Not for his work but for the man himself and was particularly interested in the creative dynamic between Vincent and his brother Leon, which was in so many ways similar to the peculiar and fusional relationship I have with my sister. Van Gogh’s success is so ironic in the sense that it is actually the best illustration of why he felt so inadequate in this world. We live in a world where people adore things - they feel more connected to things that to one another. They particularly adore things that are shiny, expensive and beautiful. (Most of) Van Gogh’s work has become all of that in the collective subconscious. People talk about the bright colors, the beauty and the vibrancy of his work. Yet that work was produced by the darkest of souls, a tormented soul terribly in pain, a troll, an outcast, a recluse bum who depended on his little brother, well a total loser by all societal standards - yet this absolutely important fact is lost in the adoration of all things shiny! Ironically Vincent stood against this; his whole life, which was a quest for everything that makes us human in the flesh and the soul, is totally in opposition with this illusion and appearance-craved world which is now celebrating him. Vincent would likely hate and despise the sheepish crowd gawking about the ‘beauty’ of his work. He was beyond that, where primal dichotomies such as beauty and ugliness do not matter anymore; He was beyond the surface and deeply immersed in the substance. If anything, his work should teach us to never fall for appearance, never get trapped in false assumptions and prejudices, always go deeper and celebrate life by engaging totally in what we believe in, like Vincent did, by taking meaningful actions and enthusiastically bearing all consequences - either positive or negative. The ultimate irony: One of the greatest artists that ever lived was considered a total failure during his lifetime. What I like the most about art is not the work but the humanity they convey and the artist behind them.
“Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world …..no one had ever done it before. Perhaps, no one ever will again.”
I disagree on this. Millions of people have done it before and after him and millions will do it in the future. Once again Van Gogh benefited from three huge privileges in the western art world: He is a white, European male. I mean Frida Kahlo and Basquiat, just to name these two, did use their work to transcend their pain and celebrate life. Millions of people are doing it around the world and it is not because their work and/or life is not recognized by white academia as brilliant that they are not!! They may be your office co-worker or one of the many hungry orphans roaming the street of Douala, who sniffs glue to drawn his sorrows and collect thrown away sandals, plastic bottles, cardboard and metallic wire to do amazing sculptures that will never be exhibited in Paris, London and New York.
Things shouldn’t matter, only meanings and souls.