Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Friendship and Fencing

Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) Photo: Samuel Courtauld Trust, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery

Today in the British Telegraph I read an article about Van Gogh and Gauguin. Two German art historians have written a new story about how Van Gogh's famous ear "fell" off. They write about this "pact of silence" between the two friends, saying that Gauguin, a skilled fencer, cut off Van Gogh's ear as they fought in front of a brothel which housed a prostitute they both had passions for. Some art historians and scholars, curators disagree. I've been interested in Van Gogh for a long time, in his paintings, and his letters. He wrote letters, especially to his brother Theo, that are an archive worth preserving within themselves. His passion for color, his absolute absorption in the energy of the air, the color, the textures, the way light captured his own - all are revealing and fascinating to wonder about. I smiled when I read this article, because the details of fighting over a woman - the artists enraged and unable, for the moment, to come to gentler words - make much more sense to me in my appreciation of Van Gogh and his expressions than does the self-mutilation and the violence of razoring his own ear and bleeding for only his own disgust. The affection for Gauguin and other passions they shared, smoking gun or not, makes more sense to me, too.

The other aspect of this that is so wonderfully human is how stories are told, how we accept them, explore them, how they become "fact," until our perception changes to a new level of truth. Today as I was talking with Kathy Oddenino as we prepare for her next seminar, she answered a question I had with "energy is an event! We are an event!" As I come to know Life as energy in matter and motion, I smile to know Life, each moment, is an energy event. To know "we are an event" has yet another twist, another turn, another spiral of energy experience to explore. This story of Van Gogh and Gauguin, whatever the truth of the ear and the sword, reminds me of how passionately we live, and how much better we love as we learn to know our true colors and express them so.

In one letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh shared a poem which included the words "after the sun's good night kiss." I love the phrase. He spoke about the beauty and wealth of flowers and surprising peacefulness of the parks in London. He sold only one painting during his lifetime, The Red Vineyard (400 francs). Since then, his paintings have brought in record sums and attention. I love Van Gogh's absolute attention and devotion to his craft, to his loves. Speculations abound about the chemical effects of paint fumes, the depression and challenges he faced with beliefs that he worked with in his mind. The record of his passion is clear, and his appreciation of the vitality and life of color. He honored other artists with the same devotion, present, past, and future.

As I think about Van Gogh, his letters, his images, his struggles and joys, I think of letters and images in my own world of influence. As "National Nurses' Week" begins, I'm reading about Florence Nightingale and her work and world of influence. "The pioneers of one generation are forgotten when their work has passed into the accepted doctrine and practice of another." -- Edward Cook, Florence Nightingale . Her influence was in another sphere, which I'll write about in another post. As I read bits of current history, I see shining glimpses of stones in the road which are records of those who have gone before us. When an old friend found me on Facebook last week, she wrote to tell me congratulations, and that she had bought my book and was eagerly awaiting it. I was happy to hear from her again, and happy to know she shared my joy of writing the story of "my life" in one cycle as I've lived it. Out of that great "unknown" (facebook) appeared this friend again, with a picture of her with her beautiful little boy. What joy! Daily news is full of our stories and images. To love ourselves honors each other and each image we create, no matter what we "sell" in this lifetime. Let's honor our stepping stones, and not just wait for their biographers or footnotes in history. We are our own ancestors and we make history as we live every moment. Know Thyself - Share the wealth!

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