A recent documentary film on Vincent (the way he signed his paintings) has stirred some thoughts about him and the world of art in general. It was a fine film because it did not depict Van Gogh as a crazed mad man throwing paint at a canvas (Kirk Douglas), but as a thoughtful, well educated man with a problem that has yet to be diagnosed.
He was shy, introverted, and dedicated to bettering the world around him. He had little art training, but worked very hard at his craft. Despite his illness, he procuced a large body of work in a short ten year period. There was and exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of his work at Arles. I figured that he must have done three paintings a day, and they were all masterpieces, or close to it.
He developed a style of drawing and applying paint that is unique. Perhaps influenced by the Impressionists, he used small strokes that follow the contours of his subject. So logical! There must be hundreds of strokes in each painting. And yet his output was immense. On the last day of his painting life, he did several canvases.
I visited his gravesite at Auber and was moved at its simplicity. The church had refused to grant space because of his apparent suicide. But thay finally approved a six by six foot plot, covered by ivy, with a simple cross as a marker. There, he is buried side-by-side with his beloved brother, Theo, who died six months after Vincent. When I left the graveyard, I turned to the right and there was an open field, and I was moved, thinking it might have been the site of the painting of the field with black crows, one of his last.
His canvases are not the result of his problem. He worked vigorously when he was well and able. His style of painting was the result of hard work and thought His love of nature and the subjects he painted is obvious. He wanted ,most of all, to leave the world a better place, and he certainly did.
At the end it was mentioned that he sold only a few paintings in his lifetime. Of course, now, each is valued in the millions. I doubt if Vincent would have appreciated that fact. He wanted is work to lift the viewers in spirit and love for mankind. When art becomes a commodity, it loses its moral value. An investment can't reach the heart. So much of today's art is machine-made and it is difficult for it to generate the emotion that those thousands of strokes by Vincent create.