Friday, October 23, 2009

Van Gogh's Blog

The bedroom - October 1888 (706)
For years I’ve been fascinated by late-nineteenth century Impressionism ever since attending several exhibitions at my local art museum.  And I've maintained a thirst and appreciation for this period and genre, seeking out Impressionist displays in museums that I visit.  So, imagine my surprise and excitement when I came across the outstanding blog, simply titled, Van Gogh's Blog.

The blog is set up such that it is just like Van Gogh is blogging this himself, communicating to his younger brother Theo (and at times other artists of his day), along with the sketches that these letters often contained, using our modern Internet communication tools.

While reading through some of the letters/posts, several passages lept from the page. This next passage wowed me—and I absolutely love this—with its clear exhortation to artists to master one’s drawing skills before attempting to apply paint to paper or canvas:

Van Gogh Letters, no. 252, "To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Monday, 31 July 1882.
"When I see how several painters I know here struggle with their watercolours and paintings, unable to find the answer, I sometimes think, friend, your drawing is where the trouble lies. I don’t for a moment regret not moving straight on to watercolour and painting. I know for sure that I’ll catch up if I keep hacking away at it, so that my hand doesn’t hesitate in drawing and perspective. But when I see young painters composing and drawing off the top of their head — then daubing on all sorts at random, also off the top of their head — then holding it at a distance and putting on a very profound, sombre expression to find out to what in God’s name it might bear some resemblance, and finally, still off the top of their head, making what they can of it, it makes me feel feeble and faint, and I find it truly tedious and heavy going. The whole thing makes me sick! Yet these gentlemen regularly ask me — not without a certain patronizing air — ‘whether I’ve started painting yet’. Now I also sometimes find myself playing, so to speak, at random on a piece of paper, but I attach no more value to this than to a rag or cabbage leaf. And I hope you’ll understand that if I go on just drawing, I do that for two reasons. Because at all costs I want to acquire a sure hand when drawing above all else and, second, because painting materials and watercolours entail considerable expense for which there’s no return in the early stage — and these costs are multiplied twice and ten times if you work on the basis of a drawing that isn’t yet sufficiently correct. And if I got into debt or surrounded myself with canvases and papers daubed all over with paint without being sure of my drawing, my studio would quickly become a kind of hell, like a studio I once saw that seemed like that to me.”
Another I liked:

"In many things, but more particularly in drawing, I think that delving deeply into something is better than letting it go."

And finally:
"If you're well, you should be able to live on a piece of bread, while working the whole day long, and still having the strength to smoke and to drink your glass; you need that in these conditions. And still to feel the stars and the infinite, clearly, up there. Then life is almost magical, after all."

For a more rigorous treatment of the letters, treat yourself to the Van Gogh's Letters official site.