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Terreson Profile
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Van Gogh


During a lunch break at work I was reading from the current issue of The New York Review of Books. It carries a review of a newly published edition of Van Gogh's complete letters, all of which I believe were written to his younger brother, Theo. Many years ago I read a selection of his letters. Over 300 pages long, a sizable selection.

The reviewer points out, and the letters prove the case, that while Van Gogh's was certainly a tortured personality, his art was anything but spontaneous and without deliberation. He was a methodical and deliberative artist. He thought about everything from method to perspective to theory, even to message. I was struck by this paragraph:

"This intense desire for truth is also what made him rebel so angrily against the formal teaching in art schools. During his brief attendance at the Antwerp Academy in 1886, his teacher asked the class to draw a cast of the Venus de Milo. When Vincent produced a drawing of a heavy-set Flemish matron, the teacher slashed his crayon across the generously proportioned figure, where-upon Van Gogh in a fury roared, 'God damn you! A woman must have hips and buttocks and pelvis in which she can hold a child!'"

I've told this story before. But the year I read Van Gogh's letter, '87, I had just finished making a novel centered on Rock n Roll and much of which takes place in Rhythm and Blues Roadhouses. Talk about synchronicity! From a letter to Theo dated Sep. 1888, two years before he shot himself, I found this:

"We shall end by having had enough cynicism and skepticism and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically. How will that come to pass, and what will we really find? It would be interesting to be able to predict, but it is better still to be able to feel that kind of foreshadowing, instead of seeing absolutely nothing in the future beyond the disasters that are all the same bound to fall like terrible lightening on the modern world and on civilization, through a revolution or a war or the bankruptcy of worm-eaten states." italics mine.

You can imagine my feelings at coming across these 100 year old thoughts just when I did.

Van Gogh, without question, was a thinker.

Tere
Mar/20/2010, 1:32 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: Van Gogh


hi Tere,

It's funny and a little frightening how a construct can be erected around a person and very little, if any of the real person survives. I got the same half feral, half crazy image of Van Gogh stuck in my head--find myself pretty resistant to seeing him as 'methodical and deliberative.'

Makes you wonder how many preconceptions are taking up space in your head--makes me wonder.

Chris
Mar/20/2010, 4:38 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Van Gogh


Chris says "Makes you wonder how many preconceptions are taking up space in your head--makes me wonder."

Very much to the point, Chrisfriend. All those preconceptions effectively serving as filters. And the information reaching our brains not necessarily true to what is in front of us. The reviewer makes a good point when he says that, without the letters, we might not know the depth of Van Gogh's thinking or his concentration on the technical stuff of painting. Theo was an art dealer. And so Vincent had the perfect audience for working through aesthetic and technical matters. Also, I think it is accurate that van Gogh suffered from epilepsy. So did he suffer fits of madness or were they fits of despair following on the seizures?

Tere
Mar/21/2010, 12:53 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Van Gogh


I forgot to say that the new edition of Van Gogh's complete letters is annotated and illustrated. The illustrations are the working sketches he included, what was his way of working out problems and thoughts about painting.

Tere
Mar/21/2010, 1:47 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Van Gogh


Tere and Chris,

I have only read excerpts of a few of Van Gogh's letters in Annie Dillard's Mornings Like This: Found Poems.

http://www.booklistonline.com/default.aspx?page=show_product&pid=138456

My friend R loves the book and years ago on impulse sent a letter to Dillard through her publisher. To R's suprise, Dillard sent her back a handwritten note, thanking her for her enthusiasm and saying, if I remember correctly, that R understood what the poems where about better than most reviewers. So there's another comment about perception for you.

Here are a few lines from the poem "I Am Trying to Get at Something Utterly Heartbroken":

"A mother and her child, in the shadow
Of a large tree against the dune.
To say how many green-greys there are is impossble.

I love much, so very much, the effect
Of yellow leaves against tree trunks.
This is not a thing that I have sought,
But it has come across my path and I have seized it.
"

Mar/22/2010, 11:22 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 


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