Van Gogh’s most famous paintings are of sunflowers. He did them as an exercise. It is a well known fact that he only sold one painting in his life. He was a perfectionist & was largely self taught. Also he was very religious. He has been accused of being mad.
I have been to the Van Gogh museum many times. Along with the Wigmore Hall in London it is one of my favourite places. There is always a queue outside. Or at least there always seems to me. Myself, I love art but it is not the thing I love most in the World. That is music, at least early music.
The relationship between art & society is a difficult one. Of course artists clam that art changes society. But there is little evidence one way or the other. After the Russian revolution & all the hopes that that engendered, there was much excitement much art much everything but then the bureaucracy & the terror took over & socialist realist art became the norm, indeed the only art officially allowed. But in a sense socialist realist art was in the tradition of art. Is not religious art in a sense the same. After all religious art is propagating the ideas of God & Jesus & eternal life & so on. Portraits of the powerful rulers whose subjects they were, the art of propaganda. This art was flattering. It was intended to reinforce the view that the rulers were God’s representative on earth. Landscapes too, were religious in a sense. Art was supposed to be sacred. Nature is sacred. It was in the early years of the 20th century that art became subversive. Art should be subversive. How else can art claim any moral imperative?
Van Gogh only sold one painting in his life. Personally I don’t understand this. He wanted recognition. His search for perfection & his search to always improve lead to great art. But it didn’t lead to recognition. You feel that you are standing in front of great when you look at his pictures in the Van Gogh museum or elsewhere but does it change you, does it make you a better person? I don’t know. It might. But art is very a case many are called but few are chosen.
Many Van Gogh’s have been stolen in the last few years. What happens to them? They must be stolen to order. One assumes that all stolen art is stolen to order otherwise why would it be so particular. Why just a painting or 2? Or maybe not? Who knows? Are there billionaires with the paintings on their walls? What would Van Gogh make of it all? His paintings so valued that clever criminals are employed to take them from under the noses of security guards & so on. Munch’s The Scream, another painting of which there were several versions disappeared likewise.
It is all a mystery. Art is a commodity. Because paintings cost so much, hundreds of millions sometimes, it is something to be desired to the extent that it to be stolen. I have artificial sunflowers in my room. They deserve to become art, they are art. They are almost the real thing. Nearer to the real thing than a painting of sunflowers.
Whether we like it or not art is part of civilisation, part of what we call high culture. Van Gogh is the greatest of the great.
Artists believe they are revolutionaries. Picasso’s Guernica has been widely believed to be an important statement against aerial bombing, fascism & Franco which it was. But how many people have heard. On in 20 maybe. Possibly one in a hundred. Picasso was preaching to the converted, nothing wrong with that. We all need to reinforce our opinions & prejudices. It is what religion does after all.