Originally Blogging the Artist's Way. Thoughts, musings, experience of the 12-week course, January to March 2006. And after that?.... Life, creativity, writing. Where does it all meet? Here, perhaps.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Vincent and me.... Van Gogh's Ear

999999999999999 Van Gogh's Ear Award

I had no idea that Ell, at The Pomegranate Tiger had awarded me a Van Gogh's Ear until she commented on this week's Sunday Scribblings post, in which I'd featured one of Vincent Van Gogh's most-loved paintings, and spoke a little of what a thrill it was for me to visit an exhibit of his work at MOMA in New York just as the year began.

The Van Gogh's Ear award is for "making a difference in the Blogosphere", through art, writing, photography, philosophy, comedy or blogging. I'm honoured that she thought my blog makes a difference, and I'm going to say that all the blogs I love and visit (however haphazardly or infrequently recently) make a difference in so many of those areas, and more than that, in the encouragement that so many of those bloggers so readily share with others, willing them on to pursue their creative dreams.

It seems the universe is conspiring to tap me on the shoulder, repeatedly, to remind me to think a bit about what Van Gogh means to me and has meant in my life. He is the artist to whom my heart most deeply responds. Up until this recent exhibit, "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night", I'd only encountered a handful of his paintings "in the flesh", but whenever I met them, it felt like I'd finally met an old friend again after a long time apart. People may focus on the fact that he was tortured, troubled, "mad", but what I find alongside all that in his paintings, even those painted when he was at his most troubled, is a joy at the world around, a fascination with the innate beauty of the most mundane objects. A chair! What Vincent did when he painted a chair! When he painted Gaugin's chair, he imbued it with the spirit of the absent Gaugin. How did he do that?

In the exhibit at MOMA, one of the paintings that touched me most deeply was one painted in 1889, The Garden of Saint Paul's Hospital, an asylum to which he'd admitted himself, and in which he continued to paint. The colours, the shapes, are all homage to the beauty he found in the last glimmers of sunshine falling into the garden, the way the sky reflected yellow in a rain-puddle, how dark ochre was "exalted" to orange by the rays of the dying sun.

I have read a few books about his life, but not the correspondence between himself and his brother, Theo. Still, I've gleaned snippets that have been quoted elsewhere, and one of the most enduring for me was the following:

"As to your thinking I should not want to be among the mediocre artists, what shall I say? it quite depends on what you call mediocre. I shall do what I can, but I do not at all despise mediocre in its simple sense. And one certainly does not rise above the mark by despising what is mediocre. In my opinion one must at least begin by having some respect for the mediocre, and know that it already means something, and is only reached with great difficulty."

[There's a website with all his letters, translated and annotated HERE... I just found it!]

Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that such an encouragement? Fear of mediocrity is one of the things that really holds so many people back from trying, and having read that, I felt it was ok to attempt to copy one of his paintings, to create my own version of one of his self-portraits.

It hung in my study for quite a few years, but over the past while, as I've redecorated, and begun to acquire art by other artists, ("Real artists") I've taken my own paintings (my mediocre work) from the wall, and replaced them with others'. Maybe I have "cut off my ear" in some way. Maybe I'm being reminded to value what I make - be it writing, painting, a poem, a blog-post. Maybe Vincent is whispering to me. Maybe I'm being told to listen to him. Maybe I'm being reminded to practice what I preach!

Have you "cut off your ear" in any way? What might Vincent have to say to you? What would you be doing if you listened?



At 7/2/09 2:16 pm, Blogger Alexander M Zoltai said...

Wonderful post!

Wonderful artist!!

And, you are, too--a wonderful artist as well as blogger!!!

To write that man off as a sick genius is *sick*...

Anyway, it's been said: To be sick in an insane world is healthy...

~ Alex from Our Evolution

At 7/2/09 6:28 pm, Blogger Judy Merrill-Smith said...

If I have cut off an ear, it has been in abandoning my writing self for so many years. That fear of mediocrity has gripped me, too. Stepping forward, in part thanks to YOU, I wrote morning pages this morning, the first ones in years. And I have an artist date this afternoon. Here's to everyone's journey to wholeness!

(P.S. -- I challenge you to re-hang one of your paintings in the most prominent spot in your house, and live with it for a week. How would that feel?)

At 7/2/09 6:28 pm, Blogger Rinkly Rimes said...

The fear of being mediocre and of being SEEN as mediocre has stopped me ENJOYING being mediocre all my life.

At 7/2/09 6:33 pm, Blogger ell said...

See, this is why I love your blog! Lovely post.

I think it's the dream of achieving something beyond mediocrity that compels the creative spirit. If everyone gave up because they thought they were only mediocre, there would be no great art.

At 7/2/09 9:32 pm, Blogger Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Maybe you're just taking down your own art because it's time to look at something different for awhile. To soak it in and learn from it.

That's not cutting off your ear. It's growing a new one.

At 7/2/09 9:58 pm, Blogger floreta said...

another great post. i really love sunday scribblings topic for the week. :) i think i may have to visit it again too... as for van gogh, i think he may also be my favorite artist. i love impressionism. the period, and the style.. and your rendition is not bad!! i really like it.

At 10/2/09 5:13 am, Blogger Amber said...

This was fun for me. My grandmother was a painter, and she also had a self-done copy of that same portrait. I remember her telling me about him when I was a little kid...and then, that song about him. "Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer's day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul..."

I think my grandmother felt a kinship with him.


At 14/2/09 12:32 pm, Blogger free indeed said...

Well, I'm quite impressed by the depth of thought and feeling expressed by you and your commenters. I'm not an artist and doubt I could ever come near enough, but the thoughts you provoked in this post have me thinking....a good thing...more should try it! I liked the garden painting of his too....
Shelley, one of your owoh winners...


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