Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Was It Murder??

"Cafe Solitude" by Serena

Is it possible that Van Gogh, our model for the starving, unappreciated artist was actually murdered, rather than died by his own hand? That's a theory outlined in a new book on Van Gogh. Find out more about it here.
I'm interested in reading this controversial book and the question of murder or suicide makes me think about the stories we take for granted. What would it mean for us as artists if Van Gogh didn't kill himself, but was rather going about his work of painting and trying to recover from a nervous breakdown? What if he didn't intend to give up in despair?

Vincent Van Gogh with Cut Ear

In 2009 two German art historians who had studied Van Gogh and Gauguin's friendship extensively, declared their belief that it was Gauguin who perpetrated the famous ear slicing of Van Gogh during a fight, and both artists agreed to hush up Gauguin's involvement. You can read more about this story here. If this is true, then it calls into question Van Gogh's self-destructiveness.

Did Gauguin Do It?

We'll never know for sure about any of this. But I think of how entrenched the story of the desperate genius starving in a garret has affected our view of artists. Artists are often encouraged by others to remember that Van Gogh only sold one picture in his lifetime, the idea being that most of us are doing far better than that. Or maybe that we'll be famous after we're dead.
What if Van Gogh had just kept plodding along and eventually made a modest living as a painter? Would the world still have recognized his genius? Would he have made a better role model for those of us plodding along steadily? What do you think?


Dot Hearn said...

You're right - there is no way to know. And I think it would change our perceptions about what it means to be an artist. Maybe.

Then he would be the martyr artist - and that would be something to strive for?

But it might remove the "crazy artist" as a role model. Or the expectation that you have to be a little loopy to be an artist. Or not.

Interesting question.

Who benefits by keeping the cut off his own ear, poisoned himself, model alive? By changing it?

Or, try this: does beind a little off kilter make you an artist or does being an artist make you off kilter. *wink* Or is there no proven significance or relationship in those two things?

Had Van Gogh lived longer, maybe people would have eventually seen his skill and talent in his lifetime. Maybe he would have sold more. Maybe he would have been a model of stick-to-it-ive-ness and persistence.


And maybe it's all a good story and the truth is somewhere in between the various versions.


Theresa said...

I think it's all very intriguing and I plan to check out the book link. There was a segment on Van Gogh on this past "Sunday Morning" news show and I got distracted during most of it. He was a friends...and seems to have lived a very tortured life. I believe lots of his famous pieces were created while he was in an institution...