This is the birth-home of Vincent Van Gogh. The flag marks the room in which he was born. Inside that room is where Vincent Van Gogh was new, real, raw, and for a moment as vulnerable as one can get. We all develop a character, sometimes wildly different characters for different social interactions. Some of us turn it off. Some of us, frustratingly, do not. Regardless of how many masks/facades/multiplicities we have, we can usually count on being ourselves at home, or as close to our real selves as we can.
When we analyze his paintings we, inevitably, at some point, refer to the concept of "emotion." Van Gogh was and expressed what most of us try to tame. He rendered with paint the things we all feel but at an exaggerated level so that it opens up to a wide range of emotions and recipients. Emotion as a valid "real" thing is debatable. Van Gogh said to his brother, Theo, "Let us not forget that emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without even knowing it." So true, Vincent. Whether or not emotions are real, the social construct and the "currency" we hold upon our emotions is very real. The majority of people I know hold their emotions closed off or wide open, plateaued or peaks and valleys, loud or soft... most people I know hold those feelings close and regard them as real, worthy of processing, attending to, acknowledging, and affect actions/decisions. Regardless of whether or not emotions are real, they were real to Van Gogh. If feeling was a cloak to wear with an infinite brilliant electric storm inside...he would have never taken it off. There is no doubt that he was one of the most famously undiagnosed bi-polar individuals. His urgency and gesture in paint, alone, could be evidence. Then the question is... what would have been his body of work if he were diagnosed? Medicated? What if VG went to so many therapists that he had a bullet list of traumas on a notecard to handout. What if he overcame it. Made living with mental illness a manageable reality? What if he hadn't committed suicide? What, then, would his body of work look like? I imagine it would be more organized, he would be receptive and adaptive and transformative... with grace. What if he had learned to reign his feelings? What if he met someone that balanced him out? What if he tried to critically deconctruct the value of emotion and discarded their burden upon him? Would we know "Starry Night," the only night rendering of 21 landscapes that VG painted from the barred window of his cell when institutionalized? I don't know the answer but we have emotions for a reason. Is it to make this life more entertaining? More productive? One of my favorite authors, Douglas Coupland, says, "I think that emotions affect you as much as vitamins and x-rays and car crashes." Well, jeez. Those things affect us. A little, a lot and a lot a lot. And then they also don’t. But we also let lots of other variables and outside influences make us process how they affect us. The bottom line is that VG suffered. He was magnificent and lucky to have the opportunity to funnel his ideas and experiences to a canvas that we can all enjoy. But he suffered and while painting probably brought him much joy and pleasure, I suspect that he never experienced true satisfaction or pride. Emotions affect some of us more than others. Having any mental illness become sans stigma allows it to be acknowledged, discussed, and dissected in hopes of understanding and healing.
This Thursday I will be part of a group show opening at Zola Lieberman gallery. The show is part of the The Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation Charity Exhibition. The foundation's mission is: "The Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation is dedicated to fostering awareness, understanding and research for early-onset Bipolar Disorder. The Foundation is on a Quest For The Test™ to find an empirical, biomarker test for Bipolar Disorder so that early detection and intervention become a reality." This show is dear to me because I would love to have personally been able to prevent my brother's suicide. I would have loved to know Ryan now. I would love for them both to be at the show and see their legacies and successes and influence.