Art has always fascinated me. Ever since I was a little kid I have loved looking at paintings. When I was very young I liked looking at abstract art because it looked like something I could do myself, and I did try many times. As I got older I started looking at art in a different way. I realized that the people who had painted these images were not just doing it as a job, but that art was their life.
My family and I visited the Art Institute of Chicago frequently. Of all the wonderful Museums in Chicago this one is my favorite. I have a postcard from a visit in 1993. On the back of the card my mom wrote that I had been most excited by the “Spike Ball” (must have been a medieval mace) in the Armor display. Over the year I have come to enjoy the Impressionist Gallery the most. I have walked the halls of that Gallery dozens of times looking over the masterpieces within. There are works by Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoirs, Toulouse-Lautrec, and the great La Grand Jatte by Seurat. The paintings that capture my interest the most, however, are by Vincent Van Gogh. There is one self portrait in particular that always seems to draw me in. It shows the artist in slight profile and is painted in muted greens, blues and browns. He looks sad, but with a strange, almost inhuman glint in his eye. I wonder whenever I see it if he has caught in his painting of himself a brief glimpse of his own genius? His eyes seem tormented by something. Everyone knows that Van Gogh eventually committed suicide. It was partly because of his deep depression (probably clinical), but I also think his death was brought around by something even more deep seated. That glint I see in his portrait may show his genius, but I think that this genius also brought with it a certain madness.
How could someone be so profoundly gifted, and at the same time not understand the gift that the y have? Van Gogh’s paintings seem desperate, like he realized that he only had a brief time to depict what he saw. the world to him must have been so beautiful, but at the same time so very terrifying. When you look at his masterpiece Starry Night we see a small village light by starlight, but we also see something else. There is a large, black twisting tree that takes up much of the left of the canvas. It fits with the composition, but not the setting. It sticks out on this beautiful landscape like it wants to be noticed for what it is. It is beautiful in its ugliness. It is just a tree, but it seems at the same time to be a very menacing, almost demonic, shape. It would not be out of place in a Bosch hellscape, and yet is placed in the French countryside. I wonder if this tree is a representation of Van Gogh’s own disturbed nature?
The way that Van Gogh paints amazes me. His strokes are not really strokes, but swirls. It is as if he is not really painting, but feeling. His subjects are not painted as they are, but as they are experienced.
Vincent Van Gogh is my favorite artist, and a personal hero of mine. I think one quote of his sums up his character, and the characters of all misunderstood people: “One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever come to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way”. I find much to admire in Van Gogh, and other imaginative artists, and I hope that others can find the time to stop and see the beauty in this chaotic world.