HOW MUCH DOES YOUR PAINTING COST, MR. VAN GOGH?
DR. MARTIN HARRIS: “Do you know what it feels to become insane? It’s a war between being told who you are and knowing who you are… Which do you think wins?
—Unknown, 2011, Jaume Collet Serra.
IF I’M WHO I AM because I’m who I am and you’re who you are because you’re who you are, then I’m who I am and you’re who you are. If, on the other hand, I’m who I am because you’re who you are, and if you’re who you are because I’m who I am, then I am not who I am and you are not who you are.
After reading what looks like a tongue twister, imagine that your close friend purchases a plain white painted canvas from an avant-garde artist for $100,000.
What would you do?
1) Tell him he’s nuts. He’s been cheated.
2) You hide your astonishment and flash a smile.
3) Tell him he’s been brave for his bet.
Art is a satire written by French playwright Yasmina Reza. This sophisticated play was opened in
Comédie des Champs-Elysées in October of 1994, and was performed throughout the
world. It posed some fascinating
What’s friendship? —Adulation, respect, safety, admiration? Is friendship a slippery enterprise?
What’s art? What’s the value of art? Is money the reference of quality?
I also wonder: What if society lacks appreciation of a very high level art? They say, the sheer pleasure an artist receives from simply creating it. Does it compensate?
Reflecting upon this questions, I got the answers through one of my favorite painters: Vincent Van Gogh.
As the saying goes, maybe I don’t know but I know what I like. I recall that when I lived in
Madrid, I used to go to the to sit down in front of the oil
painting “Les Vessenots” en Auvers. I
could easily spend half and hour observing it. No other painting made me feel
like this one. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Vincent Van Gogh was an artist who lived for art’s sake. He spent his whole life painting. He started right after his father threw him out—he wanted his son to become a minister—, and kept painting despite struggling to make a living until his last days. He never became famous in his lifetime. He sold lots of paintings to his brother, Theo. Actually, Theo Van Gogh was sending money to his brother Vincent every week (though he would starve three days to purchase paints and canvasses1). His brother, in return, received the paintings to resell them and thus to get his money back. He could only sell one.
About a year before his death, Vincent said in a letter to his brother, “As for me, I shall go on working, and here and there something of my work will prove of lasting value—but who will there be to achieve for figure painting what Claude Monet has achieved for landscape? However, you must feel, as I do, that someone like that is on the way—Rodin?—he does not use color—it won’t be him. But the painter of the future will be a colorist the like of which has never yet been seen.
But I’m sure I am right to think that it will come in a later generation, and it is up to us to do all we can to encourage it, without question or complaint.”
How much does your painting cost, Mr. Van Gogh?—He himself knew it.
1 Sometimes, your passion feeds you more than food.
Copyright © 2012 by THE PYTHAGOREAN STORYTELLER. All rights reserved.