08 February, 2007

Van Gogh Book Review

Vincent and I consult along the banks of the Seine
"Well, old boy, this Gayford book, The Yellow House, was a cracking good read," says I to the artist's apparition.
"Hharumphh," he offers. Perhaps that nasty gunshot wound to the chest is giving him pains. Perhaps that French waitress hasn't brought his cappuccino quick enough.
And there we have the heart of the problem with these books about the great artist! They attempt to interpret him through various lenses. Who can really guess his intent in a given work of art?
Gayford, whose research and scholarship is second only to those who have compiled and catalogued the complete works of VG, has written much that I like, and much that I argue with.
Do you ever argue with authors as you read their books? I hope so. Critical thought is an essential part of learning.
Gayford proposes that VG's mania, which is thought by some to have been bi-polar disorder (manic depression), is essential to the outcome of his paintings. But, he merely lists a few other artists, authors and composers who have suffered from this disease, without any example or research showing it's effects upon their art.
I think he needs to rule out whether or not any of these afflicted men would have achieved the same levels either without the mania, or with suppression of the mania via treatment. That's a tall order, I know.
Van Gogh's work is unique in history, and quite unrepeatable. No one else will ever jump start the Modernist movement, since that's "in the can", so to speak. But, the level of transformation wrought by the Dutchman's art, such as influencing a score of follow-on movements, opening the way for greater abstraction in art, and for permission to focus more on pure color than ever before, is his mantle alone.
His great influence on art is a ladder of coherence, rather than a byproduct of euphoria.
Of course, his personal story is more dramatic, I think, than any other artist one can think of. It has it's effect on the public's appreciation of him, and it even stereotypes all artists in some rather unattractive ways. But, his posterity is more a matter of the acceptance of his works by the critical art world, his peerage, and the market's raging desire to collect his art. That continues to this day. I dare say that if you found a van Gogh at a garage sale, you would probably not stop at the Antiques Road Show for an appraisal. You'd make a beeline for Christie's or Sotheby's!
I will be plowing through the Complete Works, now, in search of more data on this enigmatic artist. But, I would encourage everyone with a personal interest to look into van Gogh's letters, which are available on the web here. Why not use his own words to tell the story of his art?

3 comments:

Kate said...

Thanks for the pointer to your van gogh projects. Fascinating, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it takes you.

You might enjoy Danny Gregory's blog on art, and the process of making art - http://www.dannygregory.com/. He's all over the place with his discussions, but also aggregates blogs from other artists.

Cheers!

MrsSnowy said...

Great post, Casey. I've just been listening to Kevin Bacon reading a couple of Vincent's letters on the Met. Museum site that Katherine so kindly posted. Fascinating. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do with your sepia paper.

Katherine said...

Casey - there's a log of all the contributions to date here

Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism