Thursday, May 3, 2007

O Vincent How Lovely

Vincent Van Gogh was very ill. He was supported by his brother Theo. Vincent reportedly sold only one painting his entire life. But all he did was paint. He must have painted compulsively. A pauper, a mental assylum patient, a troubled lunatic, his paintings are now worth millions and millions. Seldom has one so scorned in life been cherished so well in death. There are a couple of other examples of this: Can you think of them?

Why do we love Van Gogh's paintings so much. He painted such strange paintings of mundane objects: Sunflowers, assylum gardens, wheatfields and the sky at night.

What resonates with me is how, even in his simple subjects, Vincent paints the temporary and the eternal. He always seems to paint the relative and the absolute. The relative is his main subject and in the foreground. The absolute is in the background and can be barely noticed.

"Starry Night" depicts a village, nestled among the hills at night. There are some small houses with candlelight showing in the windows. There is a church with a steeple and then the sky is ablaze with the moon and swirling stars. The town is relative. The moon and the stars are absolute.

"Cafe' at Night" shows a small Parisian cafe' with tables and a waiter in a long apron. It too is lit by candles and is empty of people. Above an apartment window is lighted. Between the buildiings a narrow stretch of black, nighttime sky is seen, lit by stars. The foreground is relative, the background is the absolute.

"First Steps" depicts a small peasant's farm with a hut and a garden and fence. A man is stooped down in the furrows, his shovel lies by his side. A wheelbarrow is nearby. A woman in a long dress stands apart from him holding up a toddler who is about to take her first steps. The farmer, stooped down reaches out his arms, expecting the child to attempt to walk to him. The painting shows the characters in their old fashioned garb from the 1800's. But it pulls at the heartstrings. Every parent today does the exact same thing, in modern garb and surroundings, with their own children. This is the tenderest painting. The relative is in the peasant's home and their period dress. The absolute is expressed as parents and children from antiquity and far into the future have and will re-enact this scene on their own. Vincent knew about the eternal aspects of humankind. His simple paintings are so tender, raw and elegant. In his own way, he was bringing heaven down to earth.

O Vincent how lovely are your paintings and how horribly you suffered. How much sad beauty was in your heart.

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