I was late getting my post out today because I went to an art exhibition. There were a number of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, which gave me a unique opportunity to look at his work again with the eyes of someone who has lingered in the territory of madness. One of my friends remarked afterwards that it was easy to tell from viewing the paintings consecutively when it was that Van Gogh really started to “lose it.” I thought, “Exactly, his art actually got better once he started to lose it as you refer to it. This period of productivity is what the world knows and loves most about his work. This is also when he is at his most interesting as an artist.”
His paintings weren’t signed, except for one where “Vincent” was painted in large red lettering in the lower left. “That’s odd,” I thought. “Most artists sign their work.” Then I thought about it, and concluded it was odd but understandable if you haven’t got a firm grip on “self”. You barely feel entitled to be in this world at all. I have seen this in Chris. I used to say that Chris apologized for breathing the air.
The exhibition described Van Gogh’s period before he shot himself as intensely “productive.” This I construe as a code word for being in a manic state. Seventy-six paintings were painted in seventy-five days and then he shot himself. Another code word described Van Gogh as intensely “religious.” Check.
I began to wonder about Dr. Gachet’s intentions. Vincent Van Gogh lands in his asylum, which must have looked like manna from heaven to the art-savvy psychiatrist. I speculated that Dr. Gachet handed him some art supplies and told him to get cracking. “Just one more painting, Vincent. You’ve only done seventy-five so far,” he might have urged him. “And, while you are here, how about coming over to my house this week-end and painting my lovely young daughter at the piano? By the way, I’d love a painting of my house, and you might want to think about signing your paintings.”
I believe I’ve just been vindicated in my opinion of Dr. Gachet. I googled him, and sure enough, according to Google (so it must be right, eh?) Van Gogh, too, became suspicious of Dr. Gachet. “Sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much,” was Vincent’s assessment.