Thursday, March 17, 2011

Van Gogh, Vision, and Vitality

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all! I realize that for many people, this is a date to look forward to.

There's another March date that I tend to remember, though--the 30th. On that day in 1853, Vincent Van Gogh was born. He lived only 37 years, at the end of which he took his own life, but he remains a significant name not only in the art world, but in popular culture. Van Gogh is in many senses a mystery, but one that his beautiful and distinctive art makes people believe they can solve.

One of the many theories I've read about Van Gogh and his distinctive vision (which of course in his own time was not appreciated) was that, because of his addiction to absinthe, he tended to see a yellow glow around objects. I have no idea whether or not this is true, but I find it fascinating in light of the way that so many of Van Gogh's paintings look. Art buffs, art history critics--any truth to this random bit of information?

In any case, I think about Van Gogh now and then, always with great sympathy, because he had such talent and yet never sold a painting. Although I don't claim to have his demons, I, along with all writers, can certainly understand what it is to struggle with one's art and one's vision.

In his famous song about Van Gogh, Vincent, Don McLean sang of the torment and passion of a great artist:

"Now I understand . . . what you tried to say to me; and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free--

They would not listen, they did not know how; perhaps they'll listen now."

McLean also sang the line "This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."

But I think Vincent had a special place in the world, and continues to reside there.

(art link here)

Here's McLean in 1979.


Lois Winston said...

Julia, I've heard the same thing about the absinthe addiction. That's really nasty stuff to get hooked on and was banned from sale in the U.S. for a long time. I think I read somewhere that it's now once again available.

The distinctive styles of several artists have been attributed to eye problems. In my art history classes back in college we were told that this was most likely the case with El Greco and possibly with Modigliani, but we'll never know for sure.

Darrell James said...

Julia- I've always had a special place in my heart for Van Gogh, perhaps inspired mostly by Don McLean's song. The lyrics and the art still bring tears to my eyes.

G.M. Malliet said...

You brought back good memories of a visit to Arles, and singing that song on the way home.

Julia Buckley said...

Lois--but so fascinating, when you think of what a BEAUTIFUL addition this yellow glow created in Van Gogh's paintings!

Darrell--there is something about that song, isn't there? I was so moved the first time I heard it, and then I went out and bought the AMERICAN PIE album just so that I could listen to it.

--Wow, GM--that sounds like an amazing and life-changing trip.

Keith Raffel said...

Thanks, Julia. Was I the only one who didn't know Van Gogh was Irish?

Julia Buckley said...

He's not, of course. You wry jokester.

Keith Raffel said...

But his greens are so emerald.

Julia Buckley said...