Conflict between Artist’s Life and his Creativity is the Measure of the Society’s Antidemocratic Intolerance toward Otherness

What is drawing? How does one do it? It’s the action for forcing one’s way through an invisible iron wall which seems to be located somewhere between what one feels and what one can do. How does one get through this wall, for it is useless to hit it hard, it has to be undermined and penetrated with a file, slowly and with patience.
Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s eye… I see him dissecting me, surging forth from the depth of the canvas… No, Socrates did not have this eye; perhaps the only one before Van Gogh was the unhappy Nietzsche who had the same power to undress the soul, to pluck the body from the soul, to lay the body of man bare, beyond the subterfuges of the mind… Van Gogh’s gaze is hanging, screwed, glazed behind his naked eyelids…
Antonin Artaud, “Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society”

To suppose that van Gogh had simply decided not to be a financial burden on his brother anymore is surely inadequate… His suicide proved that the price of fame was death… In the course of time, Vincent’s plan to increase the value of his paintings by killing himself was to prove a success. Reiner Metzger, Ingo F. Walther, “Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)”, Taschen, 2008,
p. 247 – 248

Among Van Gogh’s many self-portraits there are some, not necessarily closest to the date of his death, in which he intuitively contemplated his suicide.

Van Gogh' Suicide Self-Portrait
Here Van Gogh (VG) is not looking at the external object(s) but at the world in its wholeness and in its essence. His gaze is, simultaneously, gaze of generalization and detail. And he doesn’t like what he sees – the condition of the world. But he cannot get rid of it – he cannot turn away and surrender his perception to the imaginary. He belongs here. He is too much of a scientist of the world and of human perception. It is not for him to try to escape to the numinous world. He is doomed to look for the numinous inside the luminous phenomenality. We see that he is light (his face is lit) and he is nature (his hair is flora), and his smock is sky. He is a person who covers his shoulders with the sky. For him even the dark background of life (non-being) is as natural as the night sky (a particular state of being).

Van Gogh - Disapearance of Contrast Between Person and Environment
In comparison with the preceding SP the contrast between the person and his environment disappears. VG is so overwhelmed by sadness that he intuitively projects his mood into the space around him. The melancholy of human being becomes a feature of space that already does not just surround him, but envelops him, like the womb – the embryo, like soil – a dead body, like death – the dying human soul. VG’s eyes of grief animate the space with their suffering emanation. The paint and specific VanGoghian cut stroke help the painter to express how he is losing the healthy differentiation from the external world, the sound contrast between himself and the world as a prerequisite for being a person with the sharp analytical gaze. Excessive worries create a symbiotic person-external world fusion. No differentiation is possible anymore. And still differentiation is there – to be able to sustain it VG deploys extra-ego armed with extra-reflective power – over-developed ego of the painter which can exist even while the existential ego is melting into non-being. We can call this creatively enhanced ego the painterly ego. Projection of grief into the world becomes a vehicle for creation of psychological art of self-reflection of the highest intensity, potent even in a situation when the desire to continue to live is disappearing.

Self-observation Dominates World-observation
The absence of psychological differentiation between individual and external world is a condition of either psychologically underdeveloped people like those without a developed self-reflective abilities – with Hegelian in-itself consciousness, for example, people with an extremely (blindly) conservative sensibility (who don’t differentiate between subjective and objective and naively take their impulses, ideas, emotions and impressions as objective reality: as adequately reflecting the objective world), or people under extreme stress and grief, like VG in the final period of his life. On this canvass we see that the world (space around him) is still impregnated with his emotional pain, but its intensity has subsided – what now dominates the SP is not his world-observing gaze but his self-observing, his observing his own destiny gaze, his understanding of his predicament and the inevitability of his destiny. The subject of this painting is already not like in the previous SP his despair and regression in relations to the world (his lack of differentiation from the world), but his ability to see and to analyze his no way out situation. Here, we observe the birth of VG’s self-observation regardless of his existential destiny. He is no longer identical with his grief projected into the world. He is independent from his own torment.

Contrast between Intelligence and Entropy
This SP is a triumph of VG’s self-reflection over his particular destiny. His creative, not existential ego helps him to overcome the emotional symbiosis with world which he was registering and resisting in the two preceding SPs. Now it is his understanding what makes him more autonomous from his existential circumstances and the people he is involved with, from his life. Now it is not just the power of his character that had always made him independent. He has regained the contrast with the surrounding world, but now it is not a contradiction between a person and environment. Now it is a contrast between intelligence and entropy. VG is on a new level – he is again Vincent he knew himself to be – self-confident, with a strong will and the ability to penetrate the hidden side of things, but now he is a little less than what he was and much more. Now this hidden side includes his death that is coming closer and closer. VG’s indignant, even accusing gaze is simultaneously a trace of the previous symbiosis with the world and its triumphant overcoming. If it is accusation of the world it is the one which is made in principle, not by a person who doesn’t want to lose the battle and is afraid to die. This intensity of indignation is based on his coming to grasp what the world has really done to him “objectively” – has closed all the doors in front of him, shuttered from him all the windows and, practically, has transformed him into a homeless pauper and a beggar who can live only by the (unprecedented) belief in his power to observe and to understand, without any everyday life support for his self-respect. He feels that he is mistreated by the very condition of the world and that people are not interested in art but in flattery, gossip and anecdote. He feels that the only chance for him to become a painter in the eyes of the world is to provide a cheap morbid story as a vehicle for his art’s existence. This SP is intentionally done in a classic realistic style without even the echo of VanGogian master stroke. Its point is a mastered indignation (toward the world) that is abstracted from his personal pain.

Painterly Observation of Contemplating Death
Intense contemplation of his situation (by the existential ego) and of the creative task of registering and enhancing this contemplation by the creative ego prevents the return of a regressive symbiosis with the world. Contemplation of death and painterly observation of this contemplation makes VG an even stronger personality than before. For regular people psychological symbiosis with world is always irresistible because it is unbearable to perceive your destiny as your own, especially in the context of losing the battle, of imminent danger – that’s why totalitarian people perceive everything in relation to their group, their beliefs or their occupation (church, army, global corporation, political party, logic of money-profit). But for VG only his art and his thinking are his real – non-symbiotic, partners, his spiritual twins. For him it is very difficult to keep the weight of his destiny that is closing by a death which he himself has to greet. That’s why in this SP separation from the background is still kept (as a factor of awareness of the truth) but now it is almost smashed by the excessive burden of contemplating your own inevitable death when you are only thirty seven years old. The same colors dominate him and his surrounding. Reproach is still alive in VG’s eyes, but accusation of society is not giving VG (a fighting) vitality anymore. Now it’s not important. He has already started to separate from us. Colors are not intense anymore. Earth takes over. It’s not colors of retreat but colors of stepping back, stepping behind.

Van Gogh is Encircled by a Swarming Landscape
Here the return of accusation in the gaze, as muffled as it is, in addition is made more mute by already visibly started disintegration of VG’s body (the face – the intelligence, is still invulnerable to decay that is signified by the insect-like touches of dark paint, and by the contrast between the paleness of VG’s face and the intensity of brownish redness of his beard/mustache/sideburns as a mute: only visual, frame of verbally not materialized accusations which will die inside him). We see how VG is encircled by and is already in a process of being devoured by the swarming landscape with its “secular crushing of elements, the fearful elementary pressure of apostrophes, stripes, commas, bars, and we can no longer believe, after him, that the natural aspects of nature are not made up of these things.” (“Antonin Artaud Anthology”, City Lights, 1965, p. 151) We are witnessing how human signification of ontological disappearing becomes the representation of death made by landscape. His death is simultaneously a personal death and the eternal life of physical matter, life that is doubled by the miracle of painting. The paint is the pain of dying matter, and its overcoming. Is paint resurrection of pain? Is paint resurrected (de-pained) pain?

Disapearing Through the Content of the Work of Art
In this SP VG scrupulously shows his own disappearance into the very unrepresentability of death. The blue background is transformed into storm, eyes confront the unrecognizability of non-being, and the facial features are in a process of being dissolved. The (existing) person is dying, but self-reflecting intelligence of the artist and the philosopher is intact for the powers of death. VG registers his own disappearance with a victorious impartiality of his intelligence. Is the recognition of the difference between human eyes belonging to the same face Picasso made so much of – started with Van Gogh? Here his left eye, the eye of the heart, of life, is already dead (the most we can read in it is human fear), but his right eye, the eye of intelligence is vital and firm, and incorruptible.

Disappearing Through the very Form of Art
And now it is time to repeat his own death (his distancing from us) through his innovation in painting – his cut (shortened) stroke. Here he is not only in the process of being buried in his painterly strokes. VG’s death is a dying of his brush stroke – too individually marked, too unique to be repeated, to become a trend in painting. Death in life and death in the content of his art is not enough for the creator. He has also to disappear in the very form of his art, in his formal double doubling of the content of his art and his life. This tripling of death is the only compensation for the artist who puts aside with contempt and sarcasm the popular compensatory seductive consolations of naturalistic reincarnations and eternity. We see here that the human being is simultaneously separated (in color) and not separated (cut strokes) from the background – death eliminates the “normal” and “healthy” contradiction between subject and the external world. We see that the person is earth, but his head and his backdrop are life – through and by the paint and brush strokes. The creative intuition of the artist-philosopher intervenes into his post-bodily state with its perception and understanding. Dying in form of his art gives VG the power to die into the intelligence of the very energy of painting. VG is a person who keeps the sky on his chest.

Posted on July 5, 2015 –   “Van Gogh” (1991) by Maurice Pialat by Acting-Out Politics

Posted on May 23, 2015 –   Maurice Pialat’s “Van Gogh” (1991) – Humanity of the Genius (Van Gogh as the Non-conformist Human Nature Able To Create A New, Spiritualized Body For Life Of A New Spiritualized Matter Discovered By His Painting Method) by Acting-Out Politics