Watched The Mystery of Van Gogh’s Ear on BBC2 last night. It has been something of a mystery to me that a brilliant artist whose work is so original should be defined by this horrific act of self harm. We know that he suffered with mental health issues and that he experienced his life as a failure. We also know that despite this, his painted some of his most wonderful works during the period of his more severe symptoms.
And, people suffering psychotic episodes do not suddenly become great artists, nor do they feel inspired to paint. Yes, I think Van Gogh may have used his art to express some of his very dark moments, but I think he painted because he was an artist not because he was ill. He had found his own style and this was perhaps his link to sanity, rather than the expression of insanity.
His vibrant use of colour in later works and extraordinary brushwork which seems to be spontaneous are qualities that mark him as a great visionary. I am not convinced that his mental state created his art, I think it may have been something he had to cope with rather than a “gift” to his work.
For me the tragedy is that of the almost 900 paintings Van Gogh created over 10 years, only one was officially sold in his lifetime. This was called The Red Vineyard at Arles, painted in 1888, two years before his death.
PS. Thinking about the emphasis on context and juxtaposition of images in my current studies. The way that a colour changes when placed beside another is difficult to describe. I discovered this quote on the Van Gogh Gallery site:
“There is no blue without yellow and without orange.” Van Gogh’s profound understanding of colour is one of his great legacies.