Thursday, March 10, 2016

Van Gogh on the Work of an Artist and the Future

These excerpts from a letter Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo on May 20, 1888 resonate for me (and probably will for other composers):
. . . At the height of artistic life therein, and remains, and returns time and again, a hankering after real life--ideal and unattainable.

And sometimes one lacks the will to throw oneself back wholeheartedly into art, and to regain one's capacity for it. One knows one is a cab horse, and that one is going to be hitched up to the same old cab again--and that one would rather not, and would prefer to live in a meadow, with sunshine, a river, other horses for company as free as oneself, and the act of procreation.

And perhaps, in the end, the heart complaint is caused by that. I shouldn't be at all surprised if it is to some extent. One no longer rebels against things, but neither is one resigned--one is ill and does not get better--and one cannot find a precise cure.

I'm not sure who called this condition "being stricken by death and immortality." The cab one is pulling along must be of some use to people one doesn't know. And so, if we believe in the new art, in the artists of the future, our presentiment will not play us false.

When good old Corot said a few days before his death, "Last night in a dream, I saw landscapes with skies all pink," well, they've arrived, haven't they, those pink skies, and yellow and green ones into the bargain, in the impressionist landscape? Which means that some things one can force in the future do indeed come about.

And those of us who are, as I am led to believe, still fairly far from death, nevertheless feel that these things are bigger than we are and will outlive us.

We do not feel we are dying, but we do feel that in reality we count for little, and that to be a link in the chain of artists we are paying a high price in health, in youth, in liberty, none of which we enjoy, any more than does the cab horse pulling a coachload of people out enjoying themselves in spring.

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