Happy Birthday, Vincent van Gogh

30 Mar 2015 /
Self-Portrait, Spring 1887, Oil on pasteboard,...

Self-Portrait, Spring 1887, Oil on pasteboard, 42 × 33.7 cm., Art Institute of Chicago

Vincent van Gogh was born on this date in 1853. He was poor and virtually unknown throughout his life and after years of anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died at the age of 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

According to his brother, his last words were “The sadness will last forever.” Although he would have said it in Dutch.

You can’t say enough great things about this guy. He’s one of the most renowned painters in the history of the world, one of the most recognizable painters, his work is in all the best art museums. If you want to own a van Gogh, get ready to pay $100 million. That’s for one painting.

His life at the time he was living it must have looked quite pointless to everyone including himself, nothing but suffering and failure. And yet, as it turns out, his life has meant a million times more to the world than anyone could have possibly imagined. So you never know.

The van Gogh self-portrait above is at the Art Institute of Chicago. As it happens, I’ve visited the Art Institute of Chicago . . . one of the things I remember about it is seeing a museum guide with a tour group and the painting they were standing in front of was this:

Gaylen Gerber, Untitled

Gaylen Gerber, Untitled, not dated, Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 96.5 cm (38 x 38 in.)

I couldn’t hear what the guide was saying but usually with works like this it’s some nonsense about challenging contemporary perceptions about art and the process of creation.

There’s some crazy stuff in art museums. Here’s another painting by the same person:

Gaylen Gerber, Untitled

Gaylen Gerber, Untitled, not dated, Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 96.5 cm (38 x 38 in.)

In case you’re thinking “Very funny, that’s the same picture,” it’s not. If you look at them very closely, you can see that they’re not the same. I don’t attribute that to any artistic merit or even intention on the part of the painter, just that if you take two canvases and paint them gray, they’re bound to be less than identical in some way.

The man who painted those gray squares will never go insane or cut off his own ear or shoot himself. Why? Because he couldn’t care less. He takes identical canvases and paints them gray. That’s what he does.

If van Gogh saw some of the stuff that’s hanging in art museums today, he wouldn’t be able to stop throwing up.

Happy Birthday, Vincent!


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