Thursday, June 14, 2007

Starry Starry Night

(Van Gogh, Vincent Van, the Vin-Man, Vin. The Van-Gopherater!)

I heard Don Mclean's song (he who wrote 'Bye Bye Miss American Pie') about Vincent Van Gogh long before I ever saw any of the artwork it talked about. His hit song, 'Starry Starry Night' was haunting when I was 10 or 12, even without knowing what it was about. Then in junior high and high school I saw a couple pictures of Van Gogh's paintings in textbooks. Little black and white pictures, an inch or two by an inch or three, in textbooks. When I was a junior there was one color picture of Vincent's 'Sunflowers' in our book. It looked thoroughly unremarkable. A painting of flowers, a little twisted, a little off-kilter like you or I might do with limited skill. Sunflowers which nobody had watered lately. And for me and my classmates, it still had no connection with Mclean's maudlin little song.

Later, I shuffled off an exo-skeleton or two and swam naked through oceans, finding myself in places where they kept the real paintings our textbooks had only taken pictures of. I walked in front of 'Sunflowers' in Basel, and it arrested me for an hour. Vincent saw the world on mushrooms, through a prophet's eyes of doom. Where other people were working and toiling in commonplace fields on gloomy afternoons, something different sang in Vincent, and his brush-strokes rose up off the canvas like helium-filled balloons. When you're in front of his works, it's easy to see why they disturbed people so much a hundred and forty years ago. No one else back then perceived the world like him, he strove to paint the overwhelmingly beautiful, ordinary scenes of what he saw, so his paintings were windows into altered states. While foretelling many innovations in technique and style, no one has ever made anything like them since. As Mclean says, "I could've told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."

This YouTube video is a nice review of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, is far more complete than available in any three museums combined, and matches up well with McClean's song. You can't see the genius of the works first-hand, but you can hear another artist appreciate them in his way as they pass by in montage. And if you ever get a chance to see one or more of Van Gogh's paintings in person, take it. You might be disturbed, but you won't be disappointed.

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