I had the privilege of visiting the ‘Van Gogh’ Alive experience in Edinburgh with a friend today. It was an immersive experience of the artistic development of Van Gogh, featuring many of his most well known works on enormous screens, with some meaningful quotations from his letters, and some evocative music. I feel as if I have been to France and back in a day!
I love Van Gogh, and visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam a few years ago. Seeing the colour and textures of his paintings was inspiring and deeply moving. Van Gogh led such a troubled life, but had such insight and a perception of the beauty in the ordinary- in the lives of miners and peasants. The intensity of his later work- his stylised use of colour to portray nature, from sunflowers, to open fields, to his famous ‘starry night’ is unsurpassed.
A quotation from him that I resonate with goes as follows: ‘ the fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore’.
Van Gogh was brought up in a Christian family, and for a while saw himself as a missionary. Then his connection with the church loosened, but his deep spirituality remained. He saw beauty everywhere, and understood the intrinsic relationship between art and love. Even when he was in pain, he still journied on.
Van Gogh’ s incredible creative gifts were never recognised in his life time. Despite the efforts of his brother Theo, he had very little to live on. He battled with ill health, which from the descriptions, sounds like epilepsy. He experienced intense mood swings, from exhilaration to deep depression, and he died tragically age 37.
He is such an inspiring figure, because he battled with darkness, yet appreciated the light. He felt frustrated, but found solace in the stars. He had nothing, but was ecstatic about the colours of a flower. He was belittled, but he appreciated any act of kindness. In the midst of his struggles with depression and sorrow, he noticed the exquisite beauty of his surroundings, and was always curious and attentive.
Another quotation of his is ‘ I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.’
In the midst of his many flaws, he experimented with form and vivid colour, and did something extraordinary – he demonstrated the ethereal dimension of ordinary days, in a way that now the world can never forget. He was a courageous pioneer, who followed his heart, even when no one else believed in him.
I think his example gives us courage to follow our dreams, even when they don’t make sense to anyone else. Jesus followed his purpose to demonstrate the love of God to the world, even though he faced opposition and sorrow. May we too walk in the light, and humbly seek to fulfil our calling, whatever that might be.
Gracious God, your world is immeasurably beautiful and varied. Forgive us when we are in too much of a rush to notice. Thankyou for artists and musicians and writers who enlarge our appreciation of our world. Lord Jesus, you remind us that nothing is impossible with God. Help us use our creative gifts and talents, even in our flawed humanity to somehow share love and inspire others. Holy spirit, take our weaknesses and brokeness, and somehow inspire us to live richer and more attentive and appreciative lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen