|Colored pencil of Van Gogh from his self-portrait|
What would it be like to talk to the most famous artist in the world? If I had the chance, I know there is at least one thing everyone would like to know.
Van Gogh is the epitome of the tortured artist. His use of color and form changed the way we think of art. He was a visionary genius. There are probably very few people who have not heard of him. Of all the post-impressionists, he is my favorite. It has always been a dream of mine to study art in Paris. It would have been an incredible experience to have worked with the likes of Gauguin, Bernard, and Talouse-Lautrec, talking of colors, light, shadows, and perspective, while sipping espresso along the River Seine.
Van Gogh’s short life was not an easy one. He was born into extreme poverty, was not successful at love or at selling his paintings, even though his brother, Theo, was an art dealer. He was changeable, moving around various parts of Paris, seemingly at a moment’s notice, settling at Arles, France, in the last years before his suicide at age 37. His brother, Theo was his confidant and major benefactor, sending him money to support him throughout his life.
He was quite a prolific artist. In the ten years that Van Gogh painted, he created 900 actual paintings, and over 150 sketches that accompanied his many letters (some 800) to his brother, family, and friends. If you do the math, that amounts to four paintings a day for ten years!
My imaginary interview with Van Gogh would go something like this:
I arrive at the little bistro along the seine. The sky is a blue and clear, and the sun is shining, glistening over the gently rippling waves of the water. He is sitting comfortably on the chair, dressed in very loose worn slacks that hang on his too-thin frame. His jacket hangs open and a scarf is tied loosely around his neck. He has a three-day growth of beard on his face and his fiery red hair is short-cropped to his head. I avert my eyes at the obvious scars. I introduce myself. We shake hands and exchange pleasantries. He tells me that he needs to go and paint while the sun is high in the sky, so to please begin the interview. I agree and begin.
Me: What made you take up painting?
Van Gogh: Love. Love of nature and of beauty.
Me: Just “love?” Was there a certain someone that you loved?
Van Gogh: (Squirming a bit on his seat and hesitating). Yes, I was in love once but it did not end well.
Me: How unfortunate. Do you think this was because of your habit of moving around that caused the problems?
Van Gogh: I do not know.
Me: (He seems offended at this line of questioning, but I persist). It had nothing to do with it?
Van Gogh: Perhaps. He takes a big drag off his cigarette, blowing the smoke out quickly.
Me: is my understanding that you were to study theology and wished to become a minister. What was the reason for your leaving?
Van Gogh: (He waves his hand in a dismissing fashion). It was not for me. They would not let me preach any longer. They did not care for my austere way of living. I believed it to be a pious way of life. Can we move on to my work? The sun is getting low. I will not have time to paint today.
Me: Very well. How would you interpret your work? Why do you paint flowers and scenes of peasants?
Van Gogh: I find solice in nature and the beauty of natural surroundings. It is my sanctuary. Nature is a model for beauty, balance and harmony in life and in my paintings. There is a bond between humanity and the natural world. Painting helps keep me reasonable. This is why I paint flowers. As for painting peasant scenes, my painting of them expresses the spirit of the life of the poor.
Me: I see. Thank you for your time, Mr. Van Gogh. I do have one last question for you that I think everyone would be interested in knowing….why did you cut off your ear?
Van Gogh: This interview is over. With that, he gets up, flings his scarf over his shoulder, puts on his hat and walks away.
Maybe I should have been a bit more tactful.
We will never know what caused his continuous mental breakdowns and eventual suicide before he reached 40. There are numerous theories and explanations as to what caused his breakdown. My own theory is that he was drove himself incessantly to paint, didn’t take care of his physical health or nutrition, had a predisposition for mental disease such as bipolar disorder perhaps, and had a habit of eating paint, which contained lead. This all lead to a lethal combination that culminated in his taking his own life.
Thank you for indulging me in my fantasy. If you would like to contact me or have problems leaving a comment on the site, let me know.