Friday, 8 July 2011

More intuition and imagination in viewing art

I have not posted anything in a while. I told myself that I need to post some new artwork very soon (or rather as soon as it will be complete). Today I was finishing up a formal analyses paper on an artwork and artist of my choice from late 19th and early 20th century. Naturally I chose Vincent Van Gogh, who is one of my favourite artists. Being a huge art history buff I enjoyed spending my whole (beautiful, sunny) (fri)day on the paper, and I do believe I have reached a new dimension of “nerdism”. Towards the end of writing thou, I actually made a pretty cool realization. I do not only rely mainly on my intuition when I create my work, but also when I view works done by others. Sure that just like with creating art, when looking at art knowledge/training/ education etc. help, but now I am also convinced that to truly respond to a work of art, at the deepest level, you have to respond to it intuitively. It is something about the intuition that makes the imagination run wild, and creates a special experience for you while viewing art. Here is an example of my interpretation of Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent Van Gogh. I did use some knowledge and research here, but overall my main experience as a viewer is based on my intuition and personal interpretation.I think that sometimes we all worry too much about what the "experts" say a work of art means, instead of looking at it on our own terms

 “Wheatfield with Crows has been considered  by many to be the last painting done by Vincent, with some even suggesting it to be his suicide note. However, even thou  the painting was done few weeks before Van Gogh’s tragic death; it is for certain not his last work.
Due to the chronological nature of the museum  in Amsterdam, Wheatfield with Crows is hanging at the end of the exhibit. The painting is 50.3cm x 103 cm in size, with the medium being oil on canvas .  As suggested by the title, the painting illustrates a yellow wheat field with a flock of crows flying above it. There are three pathways visible in the field, two of them illogically running off to the sides, while the third one seems to be heading straight ahead, away from the viewer. The field is over casted by a turbulent sky, with dark and heavy clouds. The colour palette of the painting is composed of a bit of brown and green, but mostly of bright yellow of the wheat field, and deep cobalt blue of the sky, with a few black accents. The painting seems to be done with very vigorous brush strokes and with a use of the impasto technique. One of the most common interpretations of Wheatfield with Crows is that the crows symbolize death, and that the painting conveys feelings of isolation, loneliness, and defeat faced by the artist in the last days of his life. However, there is also another interpretation, which states that Van Gogh viewed birds in a positive way and as a symbol of freedom. Vincent would go as far as to write to Theo in an 1890 letter   "please give me the freedom to be a bird like other birds!".
When seeing Wheatfield with Crows at the museum  in Amsterdam I was aware of it being one of Van Gogh’s last works; however the painting did not strike me as overly pessimistic. The main sensation conveyed by the painting was that of anticipation for something monumental to happen. The unnatural contrast between the dark stormy sky and the bright yellow field created a certain atmospheric heaviness in the painting. This heavy air felt like it has been composed of a massive build-up, the release of which would be felt by all of nature. The silhouettes of birds suspended  in mid-flight gave a feeling of something literally “hanging in the air”. The “freeze” of the turbulent movement of the heavy clouds made the painting into a snap shot of a moment in time. At the same time the painting seemed to be bursting with life and movement due to the use of rapid and broken brushstrokes.  The juxtaposition of the stillness and the frantic motion added an almost schizophrenic-like feel to the painting.
When recently examining Wheatfield with Crows I became a lot more interested in the symbolism of the work. I have stumbled upon a quote from one of Vincent’s letters to Theo written about his last wheat field paintings
“They are vast fields of wheat under troubled skies, and I did not need to go out of my
way to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness. I hope you will see them soon - for
I hope to bring them to you in Paris as soon as possible, since I almost think that these
canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, the health and restorative forces that I see in the country.”
After discovering the quote mentioned above, I became convinced of my own interpretation of Wheatfield with Crows. The turbulence, turmoil and the emotionally charged feel of the painting all illustrate Vincent’s life-long struggles. The three paths in the painting symbolize the point in Vincent’s life where he found himself at metaphorical crossroads, and where choices had to be made. Vincent is only showing us the middle path and portraying the two side paths as incomplete and illogical. This makes the viewer feel as if Van Gogh has already made his choice. The chosen middle path  leads through the wheat fields of Auvers, where, as Vincent mentioned  he “did not need to go out of my way to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness”. Perhaps it was in these wheat fields that Vincent came to terms with his emotional problems, and was able to finally express his inner  pain. Maybe he finally felt like he was able to feel some kind of an external understanding from the world around him. Interestingly enough thou, the viewer is not shown the end of the middle path, perhaps Van Gogh still saw  the  road to his well-being as one filled with many unexpected turns. However, the road leads through fields of  bright yellow ,which was Vincent’s favourite colour, perhaps embodying his vision of healthy and  restorative forces in the country.
 The stormy sky in the painting should not be perceived  in a pessimistic manner either, as Van Gogh actually viewed storms in a rather positive way. In fact Vincent wrote to Theo in one of his letters that “The pilot sometimes succeeds in using a storm to make headway, instead of being wrecked by it”. Finally, the crows occupying the sky and flying  towards the horizon, express Van Gogh’s desire to be free as a bird.
In my opinion Wheatfield with Crows is charged with Van Gogh’s feelings of hope for happiness at the end of the path, which he  has chosen. After seeing his heartaches as a source of his true inner strength, Van Gogh at last felt free as a bird.  Unfortunately, it would seem that just a few weeks later Vincent came to the realization that  the healing and happiness are not awaiting for him across a metaphorical wheat field…The Wheatfield with Crows along with all the other works left behind by Vincent, are all modern works of art in their truest sense. Van Gogh is not only making his paintings modern by depicting in them his contemporary surroundings, but unlike anyone before him, by pouring his very soul into each one of his brushstroke. I think this is what makes Wheatfield with Crows not just a modern work of art but  rather a modern masterpiece, with its image still burning in my mind.