Monday, July 29, 2013

Vanity and Van Gogh

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On my way home for lunch today, my perpetually sullen NPR lady shared the following report:
On this day in 1890, Vincent Van Gogh died, two days after shooting himself in the chest in a wheat field. He made it back to his bed, where the doctor decided not to remove the bullet. His brother, who rushed from Paris to his side, was the recipient of these final words: “The sadness will never end.”
The jaded harbinger then moved on to her next bit of trivia while I weakly turned off the radio, pulled over, and wept a bit. 

Several years ago my friend Phil Tallon wrote a book called The Poetics of Evil: Toward an Aesthetic Theodicy. In the introduction, he allows Karl Barth to suggest to us that artists such as Mozart were masterful professors of a natural theology that they were somehow unable to rationally adopt. Mozart’s musical works, very much unlike his life, display a mighty triumph of light and hope over an ever-present darkness and despair. The truth cried out through opus after opus from his own genius, and yet he remained deaf to its message. What a tragic vessel. 

In my wallet is a Capital One credit card with Van Gogh’s Starry Nights emblazoned on its face, an ironic canvas for the work considering the man never saw a dime for his paintings. His wistful expressionism displays an iconic apprehension of the order, sense, and equity of the world that he simply could (would?) not translate to a working faith. It’s as though he believed in the swirling vision of colors and light and yet not in the mountain, stars, city, and wind themselves. Vincent died thinking he was nothing at all and that suffering was an indomitable force, tragically wrong about both of these things as even the work of his hands testifies. 123 years later, I choose to believe the proclamation of the man’s art over his life, forever affected by both. 

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