Monday, September 9, 2013

Pond wanted a New Van Gogh & She Got It

It would seem that the Doctor heals spirits as well as rifts in time. Just unveiled, published 3 hours ago by the LA Times, a new van Gogh. Things like this don't just happen. Not in the A to B, one foot in front of the other lives that we live. We are so accustomed to life being linear and unyielding that we forget that there are miracles of a wibbly wobbly timey wimey sort. And this is a case in point.

Several remarkable things in this story give my giddy Geek plenty to squee about. So much so that I am not sure which blog this story belongs to. First the director of the Amsterdam Museum that authenticated the work looks a lot like the guy in that episode that played van Gogh. Second, the whole discussion in that episode from Pond with her wanting to extend his life for there to be hundreds of new paintings

Amy: So you were right. No new paintings. We didn't make a difference at all.

The Doctor: I wouldn't say that. The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and... bad things. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.

The Doctor, later in the Museum: And... if you look , maybe we did indeed make a couple of little changes.

The new van Gogh comes from the period in which the Doctor & Pond visited with him. And yes, I know that it is just a TV show. I know that this is fiction and that in the real world there are no Time Lords from Gallifrey... but I also know that this is how wonderful story telling is done.

The process for authenticating this piece began in the 1990s when the Belgian owner wanted to sell it in the first place. This story has been circulating for a while. And mostly ignored by the rest of the world because we have all been side tracked by wars, plane crashes, celebrity gossip and the like. So somewhere, some when, some one wondered what would have happened if the Doctor had visited with van Gogh. Myself, I wondered after that episode if he might not have kilt him.

In the 6 month period prior to his suicide van Gogh was in more than a little slump. He was talking to his brother about maybe giving up. He could not make his hands do what his mind saw. And he was overly critical of his work... lamenting the haystacks series as failures. This is referenced in the episode. Someone helped him out of it. Theo paid his bills but he wasn't the best source of comfort as far as I can tell. So how did he get out of his funk?

And what all did he paint? 36 x 28 inches is not an incredibly huge ordeal in acrylic by todays standards but it is apparently in oil back in the day. The thick impasto application of oil paints would take a few weeks to dry. How many canvases could he keep going at once? And what happened to make him want to shoot himself?

Just look at this painting

Of course seeing it in person is going to be better. The first pics I saw gave very little contrast between the fore and mid ground so that it looked like little more than a slathering of greens. However, this one from the CBS page shows contrasts in the seeming monochromatic fore and mid grounds. There is just a bit of bright blue dashed about for the eye to follow back to the blue horizon and that fabulous outcropping of buildings. And I would have to say that the gable end of the one building looks an awful lot like a T.A.R.D.I.S in disguise, Tardis blue being the unifying compliment in this piece.

Perhaps Sunset at Montmajour is something else that he considered a failure. Perhaps the flatness in the cluster of trees up front that is little distinguished from the row in the back infuriated himself to no end. Perhaps there was not enough shading in the foliage to make him happy. Perhaps.... when he decided what was wrong with it and tried to fix it the paint was still too wet. Or worse, the thick layers of oil paints would not yield because they had dried.

Here's the thing. If you stare at something long enough you will find all the things that are wrong with it. If you stare at perfection long enough you will find ugly. I'm an artist. I know that not every stroke I put on a canvas is going to be perfect. It isn't about the individual strokes. It is how they all work together. And when you fixate on one little flaw it will ruin the experience of the painting.

When I first saw this my heart leapt out of my chest. It is breathtaking. And it is calming. Personally, I would like to pull up a lawn chair and have a good read in that grove of trees. Sure... it's no Starry Night. But... this is impressionism. We aren't looking for road signs when we sit with the Impressionist Masters. We are looking for their company, for the feelings that they felt, we are hoping not for a history lesson but for community with our emotions. You can pick apart every single work by every single master and find something that doesn't sit well. They won't be glaring flaws like my misshaped apples. But there will be something.

When you are the artist you find the flaws faster because you have the map in your head of how it was supposed to be. Plagued with a notorious demand of perfection from ourselves we will judge our own works far more harshly than anyone else would. Once a guy like him fixes on the things that are wrong there is not a lot anyone else can do to help him out of it. If Sunset was part of a string of paintings he considered "failures" then the shooting becomes more understandable. Not justifiable but understandable.

In either case, he proves over and over again that art is not as easy as everyone makes it out to be; that art is subjective and sometimes the customers know best; and we always want more from our heroes than it is possible for them to give. Except in this case it is possible to have more van Gogh.

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