Book Notes: Dear Theo (pt. 1)

3 May

It’s very rare in the world of art to get to hear the words of the masters. More often than not, we are left behind with their unadulterated, inexplicable brilliance. They have a tendency to create without regard for rhyme and reason; and by the time it is appreciated far too many leave this life. Their absence leaves us as a captive audience because we seek the why, the how- the very method of genius. Most attempts at trying to decipher it though leads to its degradation. We’re great at analyzing from the outside, but trying to understand, to comprehend the drive of masterful artistic expression, often corrupts the ideals with words.

Of course, captivating many of us is the idea that they hold some hidden wisdom to impart upon many of us aspiring creators. For this, I like to look to the visual artists. They have the ability to psychologically impact people using color, order, lines, and other elements of style. Color and order particularly interest me as a writer because these are items that I can control through non-visual media. As long as you’re poignant in the description of the scene, you can manipulate color and the order of the scene effectively. If you’re good enough, then you can be as visual with text as they can with paint.

As such, I am personally fascinated with the works of Vincent Van Gogh. I love the intensity of color and the power that resonates within the thick pressure and application. The man was ahead of his time; we are still moving to understand the how behind his potent color theory. Of course, being dead is usually an obstacle. But not with the current book I’m reading: Dear Theo.

Dear Theo is the autobiographical account of Vincent Van Gogh presented through actual letters he sent to his close brother Theo Van Gogh. They show a great deal into the psychological state of the artist; these are possibly the most versitic portraits of Van Gogh since they are his honest words and sentiments to a trusted confidant. Theo’s wife saw the importance of their correspondence and after he passed (one year after Vincent’s suicide) she strove to publicize their inherent insight.

Although I am not even partially completed, I have learned a lot about Van Gogh as a person. For instance, I am now aware that he became reacquainted with paint while traveling as a Christian preacher. inasmuch, he found a sense of divinity imbued in the paintings of those greats before him. He voraciously attacked his pursuit with the obsession of genius- and madness. He was an eccentric man whose bathing habits were left to be desired and who wore his heart on his sleeve.

He is also the award winner for the Caustic Cookies Understatement of Post-Impressionism. As he so deftly put: “It is hard to learn to draw well.” But you have to appreciate his honesty. He found inspiration in love (and in loving certain women of the night). Emotion was his most vocal muse.

However, very little has been mentioned, as of yet, about how he decided to articulate these inspirations. I have suspicions, but I would prefer to keep those close to the vest before their either verified or denied. I will say this, however: I am certain that his art deals vividly with objects close to his heart. His thick application style and compositional style is evident of this. But the underlying how and why is still hidden in the texts to come.

All in all, this book is a fantastic treasure trove of information. I’ll post more notes in the coming days as I continue my dissection of his incredible mind.

-Peter Licari

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