How often have you walked into a room or museum and been overwhelmed by the creativity of one person?
This past April I had the wonderous opportunity to spend nearly 3 hours in the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It had been suggested that I go before we left for the Netherlands, but no one had raved about it. And I admit, when I first saw the building I was not enticed because the architecture didn’t convey Vincent Van Gogh — in my humble opinion.
Carrying this bit of indifference and perhaps lower expectations into the museum probably helped to set the stage for the swing of emotions and thoughts that surfaced once I stepped inside. Being surrounded by his genius was jaw dropping. I wish I could offer a photo of the interior. I was too in awe to think of taking one and then was told that photography was not allowed anyway.
Vincent Van Gogh and His Genius
Did you know that he painted 29 self-portraits? I would love to know where the motivation for this came from and what he gleaned by painting them. How many self-portraits have you painted? I confess, that I have never done one though I have an inkling that Van Gogh just might nudge me to do one.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to see all of his self-portraits in a single exhibition and in chronological order?
The contrast between his self-portrait as a painter above and the portrait “A Head of a Prostitute,” below is fascinating. The brush strokes are alive in both, yet very different. It is interesting to compare the use of intense colors in one, while using muted colors in another. Apparently, he energetically experimented with his tools and colors. Oh, how I would love to have a video of him applying paint and observing the sequence of layers. Wouldn’t you?
Walking around the museum was mind boggling and inspiring. I selfishly wanted everyone else to go away (hundreds of people go through this museum daily) so that I could just sit quietly and take it all in. I imagined meditating in the various rooms….meanwhile wishing to soak up some of his spirit, vision and talent.
He wrote over 850 letters, painted 74 paintings during the last 78 days of his life and who knows how many total paintings he created all the while not selling one of them in his life time. And he only painted for 12 years, while battling emotional upheavals. Can you wrap your head around these accomplishments? I know I can’t.
We are fortunate that his brother Theo knew and believed in Vincent to the point that he financially supported him the best he could. (What does it say about Theo that he kept all of the letters?) Then I learned that it was Theo’s wife, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger who promoted Vincent’s work after both Vincent and Theo were deceased! (BTW, Theo died 6 months after Vincent’s death.) She was dedicated to establishing his recognition. In 1914, she published the letters between the two brothers. We have her to be grateful for the opportunity to know and enjoy Vincent Van Gogh’s work. A great woman was behind a great artist.
Vincent Van Gogh was a Student of Color
Because of his seemingly intuitive brush strokes, I sense that many painters believe that his use of color was also intuitive. I learned in a previous exhibition of his work, and it is was evident in the Van Gogh Museuem, that he was an ardent student of color. He was aware of how color impacted mood and vibrancy, and how it carried his visual message.
Notice the mood he conveys in this nearly monochromatic scene. It is very cool, yet he sparsely includes the warm oranges in the foreground, while having applied an under painting of cool (green) yellows in the far background. Complex, yet simple. This only comes from study and practice.
When you imagine sunflowers in a painting, don’t you immediately think the artist would paint the flowers with bright saturated yellows and oranges? Van Gogh did do this in other sunflower paintings, but in the one below, the saturated colors are in the vase and background behind the de-saturated sunflowers. What is your reaction to this painting? Would you consider using this strategy in your next floral painting?
This next painting “A Crab on its Back,” shows how he used the complementary colors of green and red. I also like it because there is such a variety of brush strokes from foreground to background. The energy these strokes give to the subject is also captivating.
Scroll back up the portrait of the your woman and compare how he used the same color scheme yet mixed the reads and greens and applied them quite differently.
Visiting the Vincent Van Gogh Museum was a surprise highlight of our time in the Netherlands. I left wanting more. Experiencing that kind of commitment is compelling, subsequently inspiring. The short time I had will be treasured.
What exhibit or museum has inspired you?
Initially, my main motivation for going to the Netherlands was to experience the famous tulip gardens. They too were beyond comprehension…..the colors were glorious. For more on our trip to Amsterdam and Iceland, visit: Amsterdam vs Iceland – A Visual Contrast.
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Most creatives love to travel to enhance our experiences of the world, seek inspiration and visit iconic museums. Recently, husband Bob and I embarked on a 12-day vacation to Amsterdam and Iceland. Before we left, I speculated we would experience a contrast in colors, but I did not know what other gems we would encounter.
It was two weeks before my solo show “Unveiling the Invisible: Abstracts Sparking Your Imagination,” and my head was spinning with things I needed to get done. Feeling overwhelmed, I finally sat done and wrote out my “to do” list — again. I had written one out a few months earlier, but now it was time to know exactly all of the nitty-gritty things that I needed to get done.
Once the list was completed, I felt both relieved and discouraged. I started questioning whether I could actually check everything off the list within 14 days! After I took a deep breath, I felt more in control and confident. Flying by the seat of pants is not how I like to operate. Here is my studio a few days before I started packing 19 paintings.
What did my “To Do List” for the Art Show look like?
For nearly a year, an opportunity to create a new body of paintings for a one-person show had been on my calendar. The opening date was only two months away. Then I received an email that no one wants to receive. It told me that the venue was going out of business. Hence my show had been cancelled!!
Oh, WOW! Mentally and emotionally I went into a tailspin for about 24 hours.
For several weeks I had been painting intensely about a new concept for the show. The title was going to be, “Celebrating the Art of Wine & Spirits.” I love a good glass of wine and I do partake in a good martini periodically. This venue taught classes on wine and spirits, as well as hosted a number of different kinds of events. The subject was perfect.
This emotional tailspin after a show cancellation took me for a ride. Where did I go?
- A huge wave of disappointment flowed through me. Ideas for paintings had been swimming in my head for months and I was excited about putting them into paint on canvas. For nearly a year, I had been collecting images and taking photographs, sketching ideas, etc. Already, I was liking the results of my concept.
- Then I got angry. Interestingly, I was more upset with myself than I was at the business owner who had failed me. My negative brain chatter started beating me up with, “Why do you choose venues that are not successful for you?” And little of the poor me stuff rambled through my brain. I literally paced back and forth trying to grasp what had happened.
- Next, I got upset again because I had altered my entire Fall schedule to accommodate the date of this show. For example:
- The opening date prevented me from participating in a local regional artist studio tour;
- I also had to turn down another opportunity to show my paintings at a conference;
- A friend had written that she wanted to visit a couple weeks before the show and I said, “No,” because I knew that I would be too occupied at that time to enjoy her visit;
- My husband’s work was taking him to Dublin, Ireland at the exact same time, and I could not join him because of this commitment.
- I don’t think people realize how our lives are impacted when we artists schedule various events.
- Then I wondered, “What was I going to do with these paintings about wine and martinis? Was it a waste of my time?”
I know myself well enough to know that I have to go on this emotional and mental roller coaster in order to process it and get to the end. I need to feel what is going on and acknowledge these feelings. Perhaps it is not really an end …it’s a resolution. Denying my feelings is not helpful. Writing in my journal also helped in facilitating the process as well a talking with a compassionate friend.
I want to mention that I have never liked nor understood the statement, “Things happen for reason.” Why? Because it negates the feelings and thoughts of the person who is experiencing the unfortunate event. It is also another form of denial. Denying my emotions leads to festering and my body – particularly my stomach – does not like to fester. I also find the statement offensive because it indicates that the person making the statement is not willing to experience the fullness of humanity.
Finally, I arrived in a space where I had empathy for the venue owner. I knew her slightly and realized that her dream had not come true. She had tried for over 5 years to create a profitable and positive business. It was the bigger picture. Rather than responding to her via email, I called her. Fortunately she answered the phone. We had a wonderful conversation and shared a few tears. She told me at the end that she appreciated my “being gracious with her.” Down the road, we may connect again. I am glad that our relationship was maintained.
When I began surfacing from my emotional turmoil, I was able to realize that my subject matter had universal appeal.
There are potentially several opportunities to explore with my wine and spirits paintings and concept. I have had to ‘turn my ship around’ and begin to look beyond my original plan and start creating another. As in other similar similar situations, I began making lemon aide.
When something comes along that feels like a slap in the face or is totally unexpected, how do you react? How does it impact your creativity? Your artistic journey? It happens to all of us. Please feel free to share.
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