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The One That Got Away: The Silent Witness

June 2, 2013

I watched a few minutes of a special the other night. A comedian was honored with the Mark Twain award, and many of her fellow comedians toasted her, praised her, and thanked her. During this special, numerous clips were shown, and there was one that struck me as worth mentioning. The topic had to do with TV commercials on depressants, and how people sit and feed on these. An author once said that fiction is a lie to get to the truth. So too, the comedian uses humor in ways to show us unsettling truths about who we are. In the clip, the comedian demonstrated how we weaken ourselves and others by the constant use of disorder labels, and she made a very good point by saying that we give these disorders shortened titles like ADHD, because we’ve become too lazy to say the full name. I got the distinct impression she was telling the viewer: you people are lazy to allow yourselves these misconceptions on life.

Our lives are enriched by the arts, and yet much of the arts, and many artists, have been mislabeled. I have essayed on Vincent van Gogh, for he is a perfect example of an artist hugely misunderstood. Society loves scandal, and so scandal trails the artists like a long snake tail. Because someone is different from those in the community; because he sees differently, hears differently, and experiences differently from the norm, a norm that I am becoming more and more convinced has been formed by a disaffected lay, he is labeled something of an unchaste nature. If you recall, madness was a favorite. But very often you find, if you take the time to discern, that the artist is relatively harmless, and has not fallen into the trap of labeling others, but more to the effect of challenging others. Unfortunately however, he too often falls to the guise of allowing himself to be defined in the dark, while hinged to a door on that disaffected lay.

Both fall prey to misconceptions, when all we really need to do is open the door wider that we might see broader in the light of love.

But what is that disaffected lay? Who is door? And what constitutes the hinge?

Vincent wrote in his last letter to Theo:

Well, the truth is, we can only make our pictures speak. But yet, my dear brother, there is this that I have always told you, and I repeat it once more with all the earnestness that can be expressed by the effort of a mind diligently fixed on trying to do as well as possible – I tell you again that I shall always consider you to be something more than a simple dealer in Corots, that through my meditation you have your part in the actual production of some canvases, which will retain their calm even in the catastrophe.
 
For this is what we have got to, and this is all or at least the main thing that I have to tell you at a moment of comparative crisis. At a moment when things are very strained between dealers in pictures of dead artists, and living artists.

Well, my own work, I am risking my life for it and my reason has half foundered because of it – that’s all right – but you are not among the dealers in men as far as I know, and you can still choose your side, I think, acting with humanity, but que veux-tu?

(Van Gogh: a Self Portrait / Letters Revealing His Life as a Painter. Selected by W. H. Auden. Tesoro Books)

If I were to write this today, it might go something like this:

Well, the truth is, we can only make our pictures speak. But yet, my dear brother, there is this that I have always told you, and I repeat it once more with all the earnestness that can be expressed by the effort of a mind diligently fixed on trying to do as well as possible – I tell you again that I shall always consider you to be something more than a mystical painter,  that through my meditation you have your part in the actual production of some canvases, which will retain their calm even in the catastrophe.
 
For this is what we have got to, and this is all or at least the main thing that I have to tell you at a moment of comparative crisis. At a moment when things are very strained between dealers in pictures of dead saints, and living saints.

Well, my own work, I am risking my life for it and my reason has half foundered because of it – that’s all right – but you are not among the dealers in men as far as I know, and you can still choose your side, I think, acting with humanity, but que veux-tu?

… but what do you want?

The door is Self.  … knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7.7  The hinge is the ways of man (religions, lifestyles, attitudes, decisions …). Too often we hang out on the outside of Self, banging our heads against our own religions, lifestyles, attitudes and decisions, when we could be seeking to renew Self that we might find Love.

Our dear brother Vincent was a prophet, up against a disaffected lay. Part of his calling was to provide for us today some spiritual insight into what will be tomorrow. He risked his life for the work. Was he mad?  Hardly. History wears the wound of insubordination (Revelation 13).

So what do you want, you disaffected lay?

RENDERING SOPHIA

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6 Comments
  1. Maria A. Morales permalink

    It is so very easy to label someone! It pulls away that insecurity that is festering inside of us! We are so afraid of truth!!!! Once a dear friend said to me: ” Everyone sends people to therapy to so that the person fees better and learns to face the truth about themselves ! What they do not realize that facing the truth and facing it with your therapy, is the most painful thing that I have ever had to encounter! I promised myself, I would never Label anyone in mylife. It is said that the thief judges according to his condition, so if label someone a thief is because that is what I must be , in order to think that way! ” I rejoice in Van Gogh he is one of the few artists that was a pure artist, art for art sake! His pain must have been terrible! It touches me the love Theo had for him and Vincent for him. I used to love Gaugain for his individuality and adventuresome spirit. I was very young .it was later , I realized. What a narcissist he was !

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. opheliart permalink

    Hi Maria,
    Both artists came from Patriarchal religious backgrounds. Vincent’s dad was a pastor, and Vincent did try to recognize this vocation in himself through that lens, but it went against his true apostleship: Spiritual Artist. He heard the voice of truth and went the way of his true ID. He understood that this would not be an easy path. What is missed in his art is the art of therapy. His work and works were not only for his own inner health and healing, but for Gauguin’s healing as well. It has been stated in another essay that their relationship was a turbulent one, but what so many do not see is how Vincent worked to try to help keep Paul from ruining himself, and those around him. If you read the letters, you see where Vincent paid Rachel (the prostitute), not for sex, but to sit and talk with her. Paul found this obscene! There were many similar disagreements. Alfred recently did a brilliant short film on the relationship of these two artists, and how the topic of Paul’s Roman Catholic experience was a constant battle in his finding that inner voice. I was hoping Alfred would share this on SPIR.

    I have found interesting points in many of Paul’s paintings, but what has saddened me is that he did not use his talent to assist in creating a painting school for the women he painted. He used the young Tahitian women for subjects, and to satisfy his desire for sex, but from what I can tell, did not provide for them a way to explore their own artistic talents.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Peace and Love

  3. opheliart permalink

    RE: While Gauguin was clealry no saint, I find his imagery and aesthetic outlook informed by his hereditary Catholic faith, while Van Gogh is clearly informed by his Protestant heritage. Unfortunately, the myths about Gauguin over simplify and exaggerate his flaws.

    A Eaker, by “Protestant”, do you mean protesting Roman Catholicism?

    As for Paul, would you say his “bad boy” image promoted his art, was intended to promote his art, or was misused in the understanding of his art?

    Paul intentionally painted images to offend Roman Catholicism, and I suspect, other Religions, as well, but from what i am reading here, his primary angst in these was intended as a slap to those who ‘booted him out’. Yes? No? If yes, then I would then question the Spirituality of this work under this scope. If no, then I will be looking for those things that healed or taught those he offended. What did he leave for them that brought them closer to the Spirituality of Christ?

    • opheliart permalink

      Thank you, and welcome to SPIR.

      In Christ the Way
      Peace and Love, L

    • opheliart permalink

      Alfred,
      Something struck me after reading your response. But first, I think you know I was razzing you on the Protestant question, because you know how I view the “Protestants” as offspring of Roman Catholicism, much like children rebelling against a parent generation.
      Anyhow, what struck me after reading your post was this idea that Paul painted through a more masculine lens. And when I think of Paul painting himself as the jaundiced Christ, could this have been a reflection of how he felt about himself (his declining health from syphilis), or possibly even a foreshadowing of this?

      Peace and Love

  4. opheliart permalink

    A,
    So, would it make sense to say that our works reflect the “absence” of the Christ within, or the Essence of the Christ without?

    Peace and Love

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