Monday, May 31, 2010

Van Gogh's Ear

The last time I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art, I was honored to be in the presence of so many great paintings by artists whom I had long admired.  I stood transfixed at the brilliance of light so masterfully captured by Renoir, and I was absolutely delighted by the larger than life water lilies of Monet.  I was moved by Rivera's beautiful, bronzed figures and Cassatt's tender renderings, but nothing would prepare me for the emotion I would feel upon examining Van Gogh's, The Poplars at Saint- Remy.

As I carefully studied every brush stroke, I was swept back into time as I began to feel the passion with which each stroke was applied to canvas.  I felt what I imagined to be desperation and compulsion.  I felt the enormity of what he so lovingly expressed and it seemed I could feel frustration in the heavy application of paint in that clear blue sky.  For one, brief moment, I felt as if I had become him and could suddenly see through his eyes.   I was suddenly so filled with emotion that I began to sob and had to leave the room.  I have never experienced anything like that before or since, nor do I suspect I ever will.  I will never forget that afternoon or the connection I felt to someone whom I never met yet shared such intimacy. 

Of all the artists who ever influenced me (and there have been MANY), Vincent Van Gogh is the artist with whom I feel a deep kinship.  I've thought of him often over the years, particularly when I've been asked for various reasons to explain what being an artist is and what my art means to me.  I know that Vincent didn't have any better answer for those questions than I have, for how are we to understand the madness of our incessant need to create?  And that's what I've come to believe it is - madness.

I thought about Vincent this past week when my journaling workshops were cancelled.  Only 3 people enrolled and they were from the women's center that sponsored them!  I can't begin to tell you how excited I was about these workshops.  I had started buying supplies for the participants.  I had written most of the curriculum and I had purchased the most adorable bags for them to hold their supplies.  I was eager beyond words to share my creative energy with the unknown faces.  To say I was disappointed is a huge understatement.  To say I was devastated is probably much more accurate, in fact, I was uncharacteristically hysterical.

I had little success in keeping my emotions under control.  My oldest son, Nick, who was on his way to work, comforted me with a big hug and a "wish I could stay here with you, Mom".  I called my girlfriend and artist, Ro, for support.  As soon as I heard her voice on the phone, I just lost it.  I could hear myself being hysterical and I was powerless to stop. "I'll be right there", Ro said without hesitation, and in the few brief minutes it took for her to hop in her car, she was here.

I made us coffee and we sat outside on the deck.  She patiently listened to me as I sobbed and cursed and denounced art and creativity for the madness that it is.  "FUCK ART!" I proclaimed to her. "The hell with all this creativity nonsense! It's craziness!", I exclaimed through my tears.  I wouldn't let up and I can't even remember everything I said in my yelling frenzy.  This continued for awhile and Ro did what any good friend does.  She basically threw all of my own words of wisdom that I had shared with her in her time of need back at me and told me to "stop stewing because the stew is gone and now you must find something else to eat."   Yes, she's crazy too.  As I said, she's an artist.  Crazy seems to go with the territory.

Slowly, Ro's voice of reason began creeping into my psyche and we began to chuckle over my meltdown and give thanks, once again, to the fact that we don't enter meltdown at the same time.  We chatted quietly and realistically about our goals and we laughed about meltdowns we've both conquered in the past.  "Well", Ro said, "I guess maybe I'll go up to the studio when I get home".  "Yeah", I said. "I think I'll go inside where it's cooler.  I feel like working in my journal.  So much for giving up art!".  We both laughed and Ro returned home.

I sat indoors, cross legged on the sofa the way I always do.  I wasn't quite in the mood to journal in my usual fashion so I just began to doodle.  I thought about Vincent and how frustrated his art career must have been.  I thought about the man passionate enough to surrender an earlobe and disturbed enough to eat his paints.  Say what you will about art and artists - it's probably mostly true.  Anyway, here's the journal spread I completed that afternoon.  I don't typically title my journal spreads but this one's for Vincent, and I call it "Van Gogh's Ear".

                                                 "Van Gogh's Ear"    Marker Doodle

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me! It's a pleasure sharing the creative world of art journaling with you. I love hearing from you, so comments and questions are always welcome.

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