Sunday, April 23, 2006

Do not pass Gogh...

I liked Vincent Van Gogh's works before I knew they were Vincent Van Gogh's works. The Starry Night has always been my favorite. We had a set of Child Craft Books when I was growing up. They were a kind of encyclepedia for children that were full of stuff about music, art and literature. That is where I first saw The Starry Night.

The painting was completed near the mental institution at Saint-Remy 13 months before Van Gogh died. I didn't know that when I flipped to the page in the Child Craft Books where Vincent's painting was. I didn't know anything about him cutting off a portion of his ear to prove his love for a prostitute or his lifelong battle with mental illness. I just loved that painting of a night sky that was alive.

Years ago, I was in London and went to the National Gallery. It had paintings of many of the artists I'd grown to appreciate by flipping through the Child Craft Books. And although they didn't have Van Gogh's Starry Night, they did have a painting he had done of a chair. It sounds weird, but just standing there in front of this painting of a chair, I was close to tears. I am truly convinced that Van Gogh was a genius. Not because I have been told that he is a great painter, but because his work captures something beyond description. The painting of the chair, like his painting of the night sky, was alive.

I've heard stories that Van Gogh would eat his paints to see if their color touched his sense of taste in the same way. Maybe the paint metaphorically became his blood. Ironically, there are some who conjecture that the lead in the paints at the time perhaps contributed to his madness and his genius.

What truly makes Van Gogh great to me was that he painted and painted, not for fame or money, but because he loved and hated painting. Van Gogh was not recognized as a genius until after his death. I believe he only sold one painting while he was alive.

What did this teach me? It taught me to appreciate art that touches me, not art that I should like or that would be a good investment. It also taught me to create for the love of creating, not for fame or fortune. Because as with real stars, the light of genius isn't usually seen until long after the star has burnt out.
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