Mockingbird have republished an essay about the life of Vincent van Gogh entitled ‘A Life Of Aching Beauty: Vincent van Gogh as Preacher, Failure, and Painter’.
The essay explores Van Gogh’s art and life, contrasting the bleakness of his experience with the vibrancy of his works, and drawing some thoughts about seeking transcendence amidst the brokenness of life.
A couple of quotes:
Always devoted to the Church, the Bible, and the example of Jesus Christ, Vincent next turned to the ministry. He began theological training, but found it both difficult and irrelevant, so he quit after a few months. He attended a three-month course for lay preachers, but after his final examination the examiners found him unsuitable for the ministry. On his own, he moved to a poor coal-mining region of Belgium to serve the miners and their families. He eventually obtained an official commission from his mission school, but lost this after three months due to his supposedly poor preaching skills, despite his undeniable and even extreme devotion and service to the coal-miners.
Given his sensibilities and his circumstances, we would expect Van Gogh’s art to reflect more and more his ongoing depression and troubled emotions. Yet somewhat the opposite is true. Vincent’s earlier paintings, such as The Potato Eaters (1885), have a limited color range of dark earth tones. The scene itself is somber, reflecting the hard life of Dutch peasants that he wanted to faithfully represent. From 1886 Vincent’s palette became lighter and more vibrant. Many paintings still clearly reflect the agitation of his soul, but we also see the longing to know and express joy. In sorrow, but ever joyful.
Read the whole essay at Mockingbird.