For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.
The above is a quote from Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh. One of the world’s most tragic artists was born on this day in 1853. In his short and troubled 37-year life, Van Gogh saw no recognition as an artist, selling only a single painting before he died. A man at constant war with his demons, he shot himself in the chest on July 27, 1890, and took his final breath in the arms of his beloved brother, Theo, two days later.
As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties, the inmost strength of the heart is developed.
It’s sadly ironic that the artist who was so plagued with darkness is known by his cheerful, bright, vibrantly coloured paintings.
He went from absolute obscurity in life to one of the world’s most celebrated artists in death. After Rembrandt, Van Gogh is considered the greatest Dutch painter.
I’ll be honest — I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this blog post today. I’m not exactly a “fan” of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, and for the most part, I detest any type of art that’s labeled “impressionist”, “abstract”, “expressionist” or any of the movements associated with them. Call me conventional, call me classical/traditional, call me boring. I don’t care. To me, “art” requires a certain level of talent and skill, and no one will ever convince me that something like Jackson Pollock’s “Number 5, 1948” deserves any attention, recognition, or admiration.
I’m not a fan of Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, or Claude Monet. Though I will say that Picasso’s early traditional paintings are beautiful. His father was an art instructor, and he learned to draw and paint in the classical way. Now, while I can appreciate an artist experimenting with his techniques and attempting to create his own unique style (Van Gogh being the prime example of a highly recognizable style), I don’t like seeing someone with God-given talent tossing it aside. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in saying that, but you won’t change my mind. Not on this topic.
But there is something about Van Gogh’s work that sets him apart from these others I’ve mentioned. Perhaps it’s that I can see real talent in some of his pieces. I do enjoy what is arguably his most famous painting, “The Starry Night”, as well as a few others, including this self-portrait from the spring of 1887. Though if you’ve ever seen photographs of Vincent and Theo, you might wonder if all these “self-portraits” are of Vincent himself or are actually portraits of his brother!
When you look at many of Van Gogh’s paintings, it’s obvious that he was searching for peace and serenity. He appreciated beauty and strove to capture it as best he could. A great example of this for me is his series of cypress paintings. My favourite being “Wheat Field with Cypresses”. It’s very calm and peaceful, while still suggesting movement in those billowy clouds and tall grass.
I guess I’ve always felt some sympathy for Van Gogh. I see so many so-called “artists” living the dream — respected by other artists and the public, seeing their paintings hanging in galleries in their own lifetime, garnering unearned compliments for work that is pure garbage. But there was this man who wanted so badly to paint. To see beauty and paint beauty and just settle his mind. In the end, his demons got the better of him, but not before he turned out close to 900 paintings.
I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.
If you haven’t seen the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor” (S5E10), look that up today and watch it. I know, it’s just a silly sci-fi show. But this episode was a wonderfully moving tribute to the artist, with an ending that will bring tears to those of us with even the most cold, hardened hearts.
I suppose I wrote this blog post today because this man perplexes me. The paintings I’ve highlighted here are really the only ones I like, but I DO like them and I can’t explain why. So for that reason I’d like to nod him a very sincere happy birthday wish. I hope you found some peace in death, Vincent, and that like the Vincent in Doctor Who, you’ve now had the privilege of seeing that your work has touched the hearts of so many. For some inexplicable reason, mine included.
I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.
~ Vincent Van Gogh