Vincent van Gogh: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Here’s a portrait of a man who hated being alone yet found freedom when alone. Austere yet bohemian, religious yet autonomous, he was a paradox himself like the faces of Janus. It was no other than the painter Vincent Van Gogh himself in his well-known portrait looking more in disappointment with the world than in madness against it.
As the late eminent Australian biographer of Ben Jonson Ian Donaldson once put, good biography is anything but a bland, chronological summation of a man’s life, and I am not intent on reciting the dates of from Gogh’s birth to death and in-betweens. Instead, I am all mind in positing what I think he was, other than the man with a bandaged self-mutilated ear because our sensory perception often betrays the truthfulness of what we see when stimulated to the external sensation. Indeed, Gogh was a disturbed man whose sensitivity found no elbow room in the world with which he so endeavored to have a long-lasting content relationship. It is not to say that Gogh was an archetypal self-imposed exiled artist who voluntarily distanced himself from ordinary life scenes. Hardly so. As shown in his letter to his beloved little brother Theo, who helped his misunderstood forlorn artist brother as ever, Gogh tried to be as good-humored and cheerful as he wanted. Still, it was the world that seemed to betray him with blows that bludgeoned his unalloyed wishes and noble aspirations.
Gogh’s paintings reflect his love of realism and reject artificial romanticism without the ideal romantic ambiance in vogue with the time. He was interested in all that existed as they were because discovering beauty in the coarseness of reality was his objective in achieving creative and experiential values. In this regard, Gogh was in the same artistic vein as Francoise Millet, whose paintings Gogh admired because Millet believed that treating the commonplace with the feeling of the sublime was what gave art its true power. The only difference between the masters of art was how to portray it with individual flairs of colors, techniques, and perspectives based on their tastes and judgments. Gogh’s ‘Potato Eaters” might not have that romantic dignity surrounding the hardscrabble peasants. Still, they were unforgettably expressive in the nuanced struggles and strife they had to bear and live with. Perhaps the uneasy cohabitation of the independent spirit and the loving heart distinguished Gogh from his famous peers who had the practical sense to reconcile their creative souls to social needs.
Moreover, Gogh lost a sense of direction when he realized that a man of the cloth wasn’t his cloth. The existential frustrations from the confliction of the will then added to his already innate fragile sensitivity, a hereditary mental trait running in his maternal family. Nevertheless, Gogh continuously endeavored to fend it off and conquer it, even when the citizens of Arles, where he dreamed of building a haven for his kindred spirits, united to expel him from the city he once cherished. However, one good-hearted postman continued to give him a touch of kindness till he voluntarily admitted himself into a mental asylum for the peace of his mind and others’.
To me, Gogh tried to live up to his conviction of good, fulfilled life with exquisite sensibilities, and unalloyed humanity too great for the realities of the world he was born into. His life was life imitating art, and art was not imitating but expressing life as he saw. Yet, be it ever the play of the fate, the more he tried to be good-humored, the more estranged he became because he was an extraordinary artist constantly breaking away from confinement prejudicial to his ever sensitive and creative spirit. Upon reading this elegantly narrated life of Vincent Van Gogh, I realized the truth of the genius only took some time for its brilliance to shine, no matter how long it would take. Who would have thought Vincent Van Gogh, who once sold only one of his works out of hundreds, would be looking at his admirers in the constellation of brilliant painters in heaven? For those who are creators of arts in all genres, famous or hidden, amateur or professional, the story of Vincent Van Gogh will be a consolation to the heart and hope to the spirit that never knows the end.
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