Walking with Van Gogh
WALKING WITH VAN GOGH
An afternoon in a museum can change your artistic fervor
BY SARA KERNAN
Standing before Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, “The Potato Eaters,” the rest of the room faded away as I no longer noticed the shuffling feet and muffled conversations but could only focus on two truths –– I have found a friend and I am an artist.
Minutes earlier (minutes? Or was it hours? Time stood still under the enchantment of this museum) all I knew about Van Gogh’s work was 1. Van Gogh cut off his ear and 2. His colors challenged reality and bordered on the words “whimsy” and “Seussical.” That knowledge came from my elementary art class where we mirrored his style and each of us picked a piece to study and use as inspiration. His work moved me, even then. His use of vibrant, larger-than-life colors and capability to evoke emotion and tell story were impressed on me even in my youth.
The inspiration imprinted on a fourth grader was being actualized as a college graduate as I stood in awe of his paintings at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
I navigated up the three floors of the expansive building drawing in my breath at each new beautiful work of art and new piece of information about the man behind the brush. From the beginning, I knew I would be changed as the gallery of his self-portraiture threatened to move me to tears. As I read the start of his story, I met a friend in Vincent Van Gogh.
What I didn’t know about my newfound friend is that after his start as a pastor, he decided to become an artist. However, this career change made him late to the game by artist standards.
So he grabbed a pencil.
Not only did he grab a pencil, but he grabbed critics and community. Recognizing he had years to catch up to be great, he sent his work for criticism and some of the feedback was brutal. He also saw that to make art, you need to surround yourself with people who make art. He pinpointed what type of art sparked a light in him and bought thousands of pieces for inspiration.
As the museum ran out of floors upward (for my liking), I realized I was equally unaware of time and captivated not only by his work, but by who he was: the good and bad alike. Looking at his portraits, I resonated with his boldly imperfect humanity. With the self-guided tour earbuds still in, I wrapped up the tour and found myself overwhelmed with emotion as I had just smiled, grieved, celebrated, mourned, and listened to the life of this man.
He didn’t just become an artist, he worked at it. He grabbed a pencil, surrounded himself with community, sought inspiration from other greats, and worked even when his mental health deteriorated.
After finding a friend in Vincent Van Gogh, I decidedly left the museum as an artist. My canvas is a humble Word document and my brush is my keyboard. I am a writer, but even articulating that leaves me feeling insecure and silly. Who am I to consider myself a writer? Do I even have anything worth writing about?
I struggle with simply not feeling like I am enough.
And while I am not a scholar of Van Gogh, what I learned from his life, his work, and his letters is that he is human. He had trials, he had triumphs and he invited others to participate in living them all, fully. In his humanness, he grabbed his tools of artistry and created.
I want to be able to apply that same vulnerability with words on a page.
What I think we can learn from the life of our man Vinny is simple. Art is active. After learning about the man in his life, I hope to be motivated by community, not competition. I hope to pick up the pen and run towards creating instead of cowering in fear of who I am, the messy parts of me. And from his life, I am inspired and want to claim the title of artist and pursue it. I hope to use the platform as a means of self-expression of the good and bad alike. I want to be inspired by beautiful things and surround myself by them. I want to challenge the voice that tells me I am not enough to create and do it anyways, from a place of real humanness.
Walking out of the museum I had only one thing on my mind –– let’s create.
First Photo by Ruslan Gamzaliev
Second Photo by Kuber Rasmus