What good are crowds when you’re dead?

20 Feb

Mulberry Tree

Yesterday I stood in line with hundreds of people waiting to see a show by an artist who, while alive, sold only one painting.

The “Van Gogh Up Close” exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum was a collection of paintings done in the last four years of the artist’s life. Many were completed at an asylum where he was being treated for mental illness.

In the context of his time (the late 1800s), his work was revolutionary. It was unacceptable – almost a joke — to the majority of the established art world. Vincent Van Gogh, in his life, was a failure. It is a sad thing that greatness has to suffer in its time because it is so far ahead of its time.

The rest of us are so slow to catch up.

“This was done by a free mind,” my wife, an artist and teacher, said. “My young students can do work like this.”

Van Gogh self-portrait

She did not mean they reach Van Gogh’s level of artistry, craft and creativity. She meant that like Van Gogh their minds are unshackled.

It takes time to shackle a mind, but in the end they get locked down pretty tight.

In many ways, the reaction to new art is like the reaction to great scientific discovery, which is said to have three stages:

  • First, people deny that it is true.
  • Then they deny that it is important.
  • Finally they credit the wrong person.

Well, at least Van Gogh got his credit … belated though it was.

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