Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lust for Life

I'm just going to go ahead and put it out there that I didn't know about Vincent van Gogh until a high school trip to France during my junior year. We went to several museums in Paris and I began to realize that I need to know more about this Dutch guy.

I ended up buying some Van Gogh coasters and a print at one of the gift shops. Van Gogh coasters or coasters of any kind are so random for a 16 year-old to purchase as a souvenir. I've always had this thing for coasters? Anyway, somehow, I've managed hold on to them and Robert and I currently use these 11 year old coasters. They are definitely not the best that the coaster world has to offer. They stick to the bottom of your glass if it has any condensation, they're flimsy and don't match anything. I think I can't let go of them because every time I look at them I marvel that they are still around. I've managed to loose expensive purses and jewelry, yet my Van Gogh coasters valued at maybe $10 are in tact?? pppffffftttttt.

they look like this. you can get them on Amazon. no need to travel to France. 

My freshmen year of college I bought the poster of Starry Night by Van Gogh at Hobby Lobby to hang in my dorm room. I couldn't tell you why, I wasn't cultured enough to have a favorite painter and it didn't match our room at all (apparently I care very little about matching), but I just liked it. I mean, I'm not alone, a lot of Van Gogh posters probably hang in dorms and college dwellings everywhere owned by people who could care less about who the poster is originally painted by, but care more that the poster was on sale at the book store. It's just something to hang on a wall. For me, I was just drawn to Starry Night, I just liked what you felt looking it.

I've recently discovered that Van Gogh painted that while in a mental institution. He was most likely depressed when he painted it. I too have this tendency? Is there a link?? You decide. 

Somewhere along the way, I found out Van Gogh was crazy and cut his own ear off. Ohhh, the tortured artist. Pain=beauty, beautiful poetry, lyrics out of hard painful lives....ect., ect. But, my real Van Gogh education came when Robert and I watched Lust for Life during one of my snow days at home. Robert is always recording movies that I've never heard of and this was one of them. Lust for Life is the 1965 biographical film about the life of Van Gogh. (By the way, I learned he didn't cut off his whole ear just the lower part of his left ear lobe, which he wrapped in newspaper and handed to a prostitute. True life. Still crazy, of course, but much less painful then slicing off your WHOLE ear off "song and dance" that I heard. Oh that rumor mill, where did I hear that it was the whole ear?)

Anyway, about Van Gogh -

My dear Lawd above, this poor man.

Remember the Michael W. Smith song, "Place in this World"? You remember the lyrics... "looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world, my place in this world....."

This could have been Van Gogh's theme song. He just could not figure it out. His entire life was a "crisis" a quarter-life crisis, a mid-life crisis...depression, drinking, bad relationships. Keep in mind that this was LONG before the time of Oprah telling us to "do what we love" for a career, self-help books, anti-depressants, healthy living etc., etc. That mentality didn't exist at all in Van Gogh's day. He was a tortured soul, passionate, misunderstood.

I was surprised to learn that he studied theology, but failed at his studies. That's where the movie begins - we learn that he failed some sort of theology exam. He studied under his uncle and begged him to give him a chance as a pastor. He said, "he KNEW that's what he was meant to be." haha. Almost makes me chuckle. I love when we think we know what we are meant to be, but God has completely other plans. I wonder if God was thinking, "Well, actually, Vince, you're going to be the father of modern art, but we'll get to that later."

He gets the chance to be pastor. His uncle and the church send him to a poor coal mining town. I mean, talk about the best missionary ever. No pastor could ever spiritually reach these people and he was determined to change that. He began to live like they did. He worked in the mines, he visited them in their homes. He wanted to share their burdens to see how they suffered. He gave all he had to them and lived in squalor. Vince did not do anything half-way. And he was accomplishing his mission, the people saw that he was different and that he loved and cared about them. Somewhere in there he took some art classes, he actually wanted to become in artist's in God's services at that time. I think that might have changed when the "church" saw how he was living they harshly rebuked him for not giving a dignified example of what a proper clergyman should be. This upset him because he knew he was truly showing Christ to these people. He flat out called the clergymen, "hypocrites" to their faces. Oppsy. Not accepted at that time. His parents even urged him to come home when they found out the way he was living and he did.

Van Gogh incredibly and completely ahead of his time- in religion and eventually art. It really fascinates me. I have to think that his yearning to understand God effected the way that he painted. He wanted the pain and beauty of whatever his subject was to be shown in his paintings.  He didn't want to deprive the painting of the realness of the raw emotion he felt. In the same way he refused to deprive the mining community of the real spirit of God. He wouldn't adhere to the boundaries of the church, like he wouldn't adhere to the boundaries of how he painted; in turn, eventually influencing the whole world of art. He saw people toiling and suffering there in that mining town and I think he took that with him. He had seen darkness, so he could appreciate the light so much more- which shown in many of his paintings too.

one of his many self portraits

I won't give you a full run down of the life of Van Gogh. You can Wikipedia it or watch  Lust of Life.

Though there are some worthy moments worth mention - including but not limited to -his cousin rejecting a marriage proposal from him (she said, "no, never never." ouch!), living with a prostitute who had illegitimate children , surviving on a diet of absinthe and cigs, being financially supported by his little brother, cutting off his ear AND a stint at a mental institution. All before age 37 and producing 2,000 artworks during it all.

Whew. Say what you will about the man, but he was pretty busy.

Of course, the whole tragedy here (besides his mental illness and young death) is that he wasn't recognized for his craft until long after his death. I can guarantee he would have thought anyone was crazy that told him that he would be considered one of history's greatest painters, that his paintings would be in museums and that they would sell for millions.

My point is, I guess, that everyone or most everyone (or maybe it's just me?) have periods of uncertainty about what we are doing with our time. Meaning work, career, j-o-b. It seems I want to fit some kind of mold of what it looks like to have a fulfilling career, when really that mold is different for everyone. As I watched Lust for Life and I watched Van Gogh struggle, I oddly related to him. (Probably the depression. I just love depression. jk. Why do I make awkward depression jokes?) Really though, I felt got his frustration in just trying to figure it all out.

What's the cure? What's the answer? To that I'm not sure. I will quote John Lennon and say, "life is what happens when you are busy making other plans." Life was happening for Van Gogh, even though he never thought he had it figured out, he still kept painting and look what he left.  I believe we all leave a legacy, a little path wherever we are, so I'm encouraged to "keep painting" today. I don't even know exactly my what "painting"  for me is. I want to find it and not be afraid to do it. That's the tricky part, but if I want to leave a trove of "art work" behind...I must figure this out. (corny art metaphor? yes. but it had to be done.)

Van Gogh's story inspires and bewilders and I'm thankful for his Lust for Life today.

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.
-Vincent Van Gogh

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