Van Gogh, the crazy guy who cut off his ear* and made pretty paintings. How easily we collapse people into their most dominating or talked about qualities. Yes, it’s somewhat natural given it’s an efficient way to remember someone, especially an important figure of history. But you lose a wealth of information in trivializing someone’s existence.
Vincent Van Gogh was a boy. He loved a cup of hot tea and taking walks in the countryside to explore those whose telos was exploration. He suffered manic depression but possessed awareness of his mind-body disease. He fell in love with a pretty girl who for a while loved him back. He studied hard at the finest academies in Holland and France. And he aspired to be a greater painter, as many boys do.
In the spring of 1980, a dark stretch where time ceased being linear, he received news that his sister in law birthed a son. And his brother, Theo, wanted to name the baby “Vincent.” Van Gogh couldn’t allow this to happen. How could he will an innocent boy to take after him, suffer from depression and anxiety and share his messed up nature? He pleaded in a letter with Theo to change his mind, to not tempt the fates with another Vincent.
After reading the letter, he decided to take a walk outside. During his stroll, “he saw an almond tree – its pink-and-white flowers the first blooms of spring. One particular old branch caught his eyes: a gnarled, knotted, half-dead limb that twisted its way toward the sky. From the wounded relic, a shower of blossoms exploded” (Smith and Naifeh).
He went back home and began to paint: the result of which would be “Almond Blossoms”. Mixing and remixing an otherworldly blue, he painted around every tormented branch and brave blossom, filling every jagged void, every deformed crevice, with a rapture of brushstrokes in a color he called “bleu celeste” –heavenly blue. He didn’t bother with a base for his canvas but let the image erupt. The bounty of it spread across the entire picture, to every edge and beyond – a promise in paint that even the oldest, humblest, most crooked, barren, and diseased branch could still produce the most glorious flowering in the orchard.
Amongst all the sadness that eclipsed his life, painting bore a hole, a wormhole that vacationed him from darkness to knowledge and beauty.
*Note, contrary to popular belief, Van Gogh didn’t actually cut off his ear: he cut off his left earlobe.