Art & Architecture
The Power of Art: Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh, born in 1853, was the elder of the two sons of the Reverend Theodore Van Gogh, a pastor in a village in South Netherlands. He was different from other children in that, he was philosophical. In order to bring him out of his gloom, his uncle sent him as an art dealer to London, where he went out to save souls. He lived the life of the mind. He didn’t start his career by being a painter, what came first to him was to find the answer to salvation. After staying in London and experiencing the harsh and turbulent violent life in London, Van Gogh rediscovered Jesus. He lived on the money sent by Theodore, his younger brother, who ran an art gallery. In return, Vincent sent him his paintings. His was an illusionist, and his paintings portrayed the figures of people living in abject poverty and prostitutes. These paintings didn’t sell well, and Theodore wrote to Vincent, telling that his paintings weren’t being bought because they were “unsellable dense murky clothy things.” Vincent led a very protracted gloomy life, before his brother told him that Gauguin would join him in Arles. His eccentric temperament made him a difficult companion, and Gauguin who knew him, didn’t join him. However, this didn’t have much effect on Vincent, who kept painting every day, until he came out with his first masterpiece; the ‘Potato Eaters.’ This gave him instant recognition. His close relationship with destitute and old people seemed to bring him solace. He tried to commit suicide, but escaped death. He once cut a piece of the fleshy part of his ear and gave it to a prostitute who fainted on seeing it. His eccentricity brought out the best in his creativity and eyes for details, and these translated to a number of masterpieces. He volunteered to go for psychiatric treatment in an asylum. However, his depressive mood got the better of him and he shot himself in the abdomen. He died a few days later; on July 29, 1890.
Vincent, through his paintings was able to bring to life, his thoughts and vision. He was pained to see the number of people struggling to live and used them to highlight their struggle. He believed that work should not be without sweat and this can be seen in the number of layers of paint that he adorned on canvass. The portraits of prostitutes, old women, scanty buildings, a boat in the river, and people harvesting in the field, for example stood testimony that Vincent searched for salvation. The ‘Painting with Crows’, and the ‘Potato Eaters’, showed Vincent Van Gogh’s mastery over canvass. The dark thick colors not only helped Vincent in his pictorial effort, but also spoke of his philosophical intent.
The impression that the video gives of the artist as a human being is one of sympathy and admiration. Sympathy is because he led a hard, isolated life, where he had no one to support him. He never married and so, had to lead a life of depression. He was an illusionist to the core, and his association with prostitutes gave him the power to portray their pain and destitution. Some of his works were painted to infer that he believed that heaven could be on earth. His eccentricity got the better of him and he died at a time when he was destined for greatness. The sight of his and his brother’s grave, lying side-by-side in a corner of an uncared part of a graveyard is saddening. For a person, whose paintings were sold for millions of dollars, he should have been given a better place to rest, especially after having undergone such a harsh and treacherous life.
Vincent Van Gogh’s use of colors of varying depth reflects the artist’s visionary intelligence. His mixed and matched use of different colors to give it distinctiveness shows the painter’s mastery of illusion. He was able to inject life into his paintings and this is evident in his painting of the old lady and the Potato Eaters. His brush spoke his mind, and this is something that he has left the world to admire and understand.
The close to one-hour video, produced and presented by Simon Schama, is enticing. At no point during the presentation did I feel like stopping it to pause. The language, and the portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh, is commendable. The video was extremely effective in throwing light on the artists, and the video presentation, taken in places that seemed to be genuine, worked well in assisting the transfer of the intended message. Simon Schama was very professional, and his way of presenting; excellent.