Yesterday I attended the sound and light show "Immersive Van Gogh" in Minneapolis and it left me once again wondering about the strange relationship between the visual artist and the viewer of visual art. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. After creating more than 860 paintings in the last two years of his life, he committed suicide at the age of 37, penniless and alone. Wikipedia informs us that his "troubled personality typifies the romantic ideal of the tortured artist."
For me, the way in which Van Gogh melded pure color from the paint tube with virtuoso brushwork is truly astonishing - and completely absent from any experience with his art that doesn't involve viewing his actual paintings. But it seems that for the average 21st century person who has had no real exposure to painting that Van Gogh is a marketing commodity as much for his mental illness as for his bright colors. It's more rubbernecking at a serious car crash than art appreciation. Why is a tortured artist a romantic ideal? Are we only interested in dead artists for whom painting might have been a temporary respite from illness or a reflection of illness itself? And what does that say about how we enable the players in the art industry that gain the most from that fascination with suffering: the gallery owners, the dealers, the Wall Street titans who collect and trade famous paintings like baseball cards?
There are plenty of sane, hardworking artists working today and, with the internet, it just isn't that hard to find art that touches you and supplies a means for a very human, personal connection with an artist. So go and see Immersive Van Gogh if you're curious, but walk right out past the extensive gift shop and find some real art. If you see the show in Minneapolis, you will be in the heart of the Northeast Arts District, home to hundreds of art studios in about a dozen buildings. And let poor Vincent's legacy be his actual paintings and not their image on a water bottle or a yoga mat.
These days I am sketching with gouache from license free photos available on the web (Pixabay) in preparation for hopefully lots of time plein aire sketching on the beach in Rhode Island. An example of one sketch is above-might need to work a little bigger: this one is about 3" x 4"!
All images copyright Jan M. Wagner Fine Art.