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Vincent Van Gogh:“The sadness will last forever”

“Who am I in the eyes of most people? A nobody, a non entity, an unpleasant person. Someone who has not, and never will have any position in society. In short, the lowest of the low.”

Submerged by tragedy, it is well known that Vincent Van Gogh is the world’s most famous artist who cut his ear. With his life being a continuous labyrinth of suffering, all he wanted was to fit into the world. In his short-lived art career, Vincent managed to produce more than 2,000 pieces of artworks. While the most famous works of his were created later on in his life, the lesser known fact remains that he remained greatly inspired by the misery of everyday life.

Why did he think he was a misfit? Having failed the Pastor exams; a profession which he was expected to take up, to becoming a poor missionary. As a missionary, he gave up most of his materialistic goods and was condemned by the hypocritical Church stating it as a too-literal interpretation of Christianity. The world around him considered him a failure already.

At the age of 20, he moved to London and dealt in art, and even though he was not an artist yet he wanted to convey the misery of mundane life.

“I want to make figures from the people for the people”

Oxford Dictionary defines art as an uncountable noun, implying the “use of the imagination to express ideas or feelings, particularly in painting, drawing or sculpture.” For him, art was a socialist concept - from the people for the people.

Inspired by his experiences in London, he wanted to prosper the democratisation of the subjects he painted. That his work be relatable, accessible and reflective, especially to break the ignorance of the upper class. In a letter written to his younger brother Theo on 21 July 1882 Vincent reflected on himself as an oddity, a nobody. In the same letter he then describes the aim for his art; that through his work he would like to cut open his already bleeding heart and show people what lies within such a nobody.

“I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say 'he feels deeply, he feels tenderly'.”

Raising the ordinary to the extraordinary. Paintings of prisoners exercising in a show of their caged life, and portraits of prostitutes with a blank sense of misery highlighting their face was captured by him so well through his works like Prisoners Exercising (1890), Sorrow (1883), Portrait of a Prostitute (1885), Head of a Prostitute (1885). What set him apart was the fact that he preserved the dignity of his subjects, touching them with sympathy and respect through his art. In a sense, his creations showed the engagement of the ordinary with emotions, nature and even material subjects against the backdrop of democratisation.

As for me, my health is good, and as for my brain, that will be, let us hope, a matter of time and patience.

After a fallout with his artist friend Paul Gauguin, in addition to his continued hallucinations wherein he often lost consciousness, Vincent’s mental health deteriorated. In one such incident he cut off his ear with a knife and handed it over to a prostitute in a local brothel. In a life changing event, he was admitted to an asylum in southern France. Even today, not much has changed how mental health is perceived by the institutions around us. Moving in a constant circle of self-doubt which turns into a labyrinth. During his recovery he produced a number of his most known and priced artworks; Wheatfield with a Reaper (1889), The Starry Night (1889) The Night Café, (1888) and others.Through the use of colour and the claustrophobic space of the Night Café, he aimed to signify one’s ruin. It is ironic how a person’s misery turns to art, which ends up giving us joy.

In his short career Vincent evolved into a more experimental artist, moving onto techniques which he finessed and would be known for after his death. Post-impressionism was a style he happily adopted. In opposition to natural depiction of colour and light, Vincent’s paintings were heavy on hues, from the exemplary use of yellow in one painting to a mix of blue in the other. What enhanced his works was his brush strokes in the form of energetic and circular lines which often varied in thickness to depict an abstract representation of the subject. Every colour had a meaning and every brushstroke of his imprinted his soul.

In the life of the painter, death may perhaps not be the most difficult thing.

Perhaps the only person who understood the depth of emotions Vincent held in his heart was his younger brother Theo. Theo Van Gogh was an art dealer by profession and was the one who provided unconditional support to Vincent in his art career. The times when Vincent struggled with poetry and had to choose between buying food and oil paints, Theo was the one who footed the bill of anything and everything Vincent needed. Their exchange of letters that were published posthumously are till date considered fine pieces of literature. From talking about the problems of ordinary life, to complex paintings and the love that they both held for each other - after their passing, it was only valid to have them rest side by side in a little cemetery in the wheat fields of Auvers.

La tristesse durera toujours

In the life of a painter, death may perhaps not be the most difficult thing. The greatest tragedy that remains is that their art is unappreciated or even worse, misunderstood. That they perceive themselves as a burden to their loved ones, like Vincent thought he was for Theo. The world is built on a cycle of irony and tragedy and perhaps it is both that the most famous painter in this world does not know that he is famous. That his art lives on, is loved and continues to inspire many. For every person suffering in silence deserves help, that only unconditional love can heal our brokenness. And as Vincent lay on his bed, having shot himself, he uttered his final words, “the sadness will last forever”. In that moment, him having freed himself of that burden but never feeling peaceful - his words only convey the truth in every sense.

The sadness does last forever.

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