Van Gogh, And Beauty Through Insanity

Yesterday I had the chance to attend Van Gogh Alive! exhibition at ArtScience Museum in Singapore.

I was quite lucky because it is the world premier tour of the exhibition. It is unique because instead of the usual painting exhibition, the paintings are projected as slide shows into giant walls, interspersed with old photos of Europe in Van Gogh’s time, in a hall 1,500 m2 of space. This is combined with classical music playing in the background. The result: not you only you will experience Van Gogh’s masterpieces larger than life, but you will also feel being immersed in his paintings.

I’m not an art expert. I only know that Van Gogh is a post-impressionist painter, whatever that means. And I only know very few of his works. One particular work, “Starry Night”  becomes my personal favorite, simply because it inspired a song by Don McLean. (Titled: “Starry Starry Night”. Very beautiful song with moving lyrics!)

Many probably also know that Van Gogh became gradually insane. At one time, he cut off his ear and presented the ear to a prostitute. Van Gogh even painted a self-portrait after this episode, still with bandage over his cut ear.

Analysts say that this journey to darkness also reflects in Van Gogh’s paintings. As he got worse, his paintings also gradually evolve into different strokes of brush.

He was later admitted to an asylum. Towards the end of his life, he was released and was put under the care of a doctor. But the mental illness was never cured. One day he shot himself, and two days later he died.

Since I’m not an art expert, I don’t really know much about details, technique, style, or whatever art terms to discuss Van Gogh’s works. But I am interested in the stories instead. The Exhibition also includes text about his life and his works’ significance in the art world.

Apparently Van Gogh was considered a ‘rebel’ artist in his days. He introduced new contrast technique, and bold colors by his peers’ “standard”. He rebelled against proper perspective – deliberately gave distorted perspective in his paintings. (Remember, this was in the 1880s – way before the totally weird style like Dali or Abstract style). Basically, he refused to conform to the mainstream rules at that time.

Somehow I wonder if Van Gogh’s  genius was related to his madness. That the gift of seeing things differently comes in one package with him losing his sanity.

And I wonder, when we feel pity for his descent to the darkness of mental illness, that it is actually US who are the unfortunate ones. The ones deprived of a mysterious beauty, only revealed to the lucky few. Because perhaps, it was Van Gogh who was blessed to see the world in a way we can never fully fathom.

Don McLean captured this thought so beautifully in his song:

Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer’s day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they’ll listen now.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they’ll listen now.

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget.
Like the strangers that you’ve met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…

Here’s a YouTube video showing Van Gogh’s works with Don McLean’s “Starry Starry Night” in the background. Enjoy the beautiful images while reflecting on the song’s lyrics.

” But I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you”

Rightly said :’)

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Categories: Random Insight

8 Comments »

  1. Nggak pernah suka lagu Vincent aka Stary Stary Night.. dikuping kok menye2 gitu musiknya. tapi setelah tau kalo lagu ini buat Vincent van Gogh baru deh nyimak lagi dan …. merinding disko denger lagunya lagi. Aniwe aku denger lagu ini yang dinyanyiin sama Josh Groban. Thank ya Bang Piring udah ngasi background story jadi beda sekarang kalo denger lagu ini.

  2. All my life I have been wanting to be an artist but too scared to take the consequences. Well, perhaps I’m just not that good :p
    Nice post though, love his artworks!

    Oh iya saya udah vote loh buat no. 48. Good luck! 😀

  3. coincidentally, i read this blog post of yours today’s 27 July, same date with when Van Gogh shot himself 121 years ago…

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