Vincent Van Gogh said a lot of things. His letters to his brother Theo are marvelous expeditions through his singular (and singularly determined) mind. He said things like “orange is the color of insanity”–a resonant conviction for someone who knew a bit about color and was also intimate with insane asylums. Not only were so many of Van Gogh’s regulation mots bon, he had the dramatic sense to have uttered famous (and indisputable) last words, too: ” “La tristesse durera toujours,” he said. The sadness will last forever.
Oliver Miller considers all this in a neat little piece about Van Gogh’s last painting, The Crows (over at thoughtcatalog.com). Or the piece is ostensibly about The Crows, while being as much about our understanding of an artist’s intent–and whether that’s important anyway. Miller tries to imagine his way into Van Gogh’s (literally) wounded heart, exchanging some of the glamour history has lent his sad case for more pedestrian concerns. For this he uses a series of mordant (mostly) second person inquiries, such as “what would you think after shooting yourself in the chest?” and “why would you do such a thing?” (Van Gogh had made an unsuccessful–or not immediately successful–suicide attempt.) Of course our answers aren’t very satisfying because what we’d really like to know is what Van Gogh thought about it. Nevertheless, Miller’s is an idiosyncratic piece of writing that asks some interesting questions. And it has the incontrovertibly salutary effect of bringing The Crows to your immediate attention. It’s a painting that will make you feel a hell of a lot better, surely, than it did its maker.