Posts Tagged ‘the myth of the individual genius’

The myth of the alone, insane, artistic genius runs deep in Western culture.

Vincent Van Gogh.

It isn’t so.

I just finished reading Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s fascinating, well-researched, thought-provoking biography of Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent fought with everyone he knew, sabotaged every close relationship, longed for family, but lived alone even when he had house companions like Gauguin. And yet not.

He suffered deep social pain, rejection and abandonment, and at times he was isolated by mental illness,  but he was not unconnected from other people.

His art, his letters, his paintings all reveal a profound link to others. They reveal the wars with his parents, the parasitic relationship with his brother Theo, his attempts at pastoring, his efforts to build family with with his prostitutes, his effort to create family with his fellow artists.

Gauguin, Pissarro, Monet, Bernard, Rembrandt, Millet, Delacroix  — all these and many others influenced Vincent.  He lived inside his own inner dialogue with them.

Vincent’s art was a product of his relationships.

Even when Vincent was an island, cut off from others in a locked room at St. Remy, struggling with his mental demons, he was in reality connected by great techtonic plates — below the surface of  deep water — to those he knew on the mainland of rationality. They were always in his head, his heart, his paint.

Anyone of us, with our various versions of insanity, can retreat from others because of relational pain and hurt, and yet even there we will not be alone. We will always bring with us the voices of our community, our critics, our family, our friends, and our self.

What is insanity? What was Vincent’s mental illness? I’m not at all sure. But perhaps insanity has something to do with us not being able to work out our relationships with our community, family and sweet ones.

We are connected, and we are all a bit whacked; the issue of life seems to lie in how we mangage to come to terms with that.

That struggle, that deep longing for connection, that is one of the great forces of life that results in great art, in great pain, and in great love.

“Love,” commanded Jesus.

All beauty comes from that.