My lovely friend Hannah and I recently spent a wonderful time visiting the Van Gogh exhibition at the Tate.
Most people in today’s world would recognize his brilliance as a painter but during his lifetime his work was ridiculed.
Being so close to the paintings and seeing each earnest brush stroke I felt I could sense his need to be understood. It seems to me that he was crying out with each paint stroke…look…can’t you see?
What motivated him to keep painting when his work was being rejected? No one wanted to buy his paintings and he spent most of his short life in poverty, but still he kept painting! What was that driving force? Was he trying to communicate his truth using a different language? A language that he had invented in his painting style and a language that the world had not yet heard? Is that what it is to an artistic genius? Of course since the world did not know this new language people did not understand! It takes time to learn a language and sadly for Vincent the world did not learn it until after he had given up trying to share his truth.
So what was his truth? Of course we will never know. And perhaps for every viewer of his paintings there will be a different understanding.
For me I am most touched by his paintings of simple things and mundane scenes.
Just lately I have found myself drawn to the idea of minimalism for many reasons but mainly for the idea that less is more. By taking things away what remains becomes more precious. In many of Van Gogh’s paintings his focus is intensely on just one unremarkable object or small scene. It feels to me that he is showing us that there is something precious and even sacred in absolutely everything! Perhaps this is what his motivation was? As he painted he was saying, ‘Look…Can’t you see?!’
I am currently taking an online course in Celtic Studies and we are contemplating the Celtic ‘Otherworld’ and what it might have meant to those who have gone before and what it means to us today. My perception is that the ‘Otherworld’ sits within or perhaps alongside this world and can only be accessed by those who allow the preciousness of this world to be felt. This focus acts as a portal into the ‘Otherworld’ where the beauty of everything is magnified…colours heightened, smells sweeter, sounds more harmonious…life more precious!
So my musing have brought me back to where I started with the question, ‘what it is to be an artistic genius’
I think my conclusion is that the role of an artistic genius is to find a new way to remind us to focus on the wonder that is life, so that we might experience it to the full.
Thank you Vincent for the richness of your ‘language’ and for shouting so loudly through your paintings… ‘Look! Can’t you see?!’