Van Gogh and Others Like Him

I have a lot of artists among my Facebook friends, in my cybercommunity so to speak, and so of course they often post paintings, drawings, photographs, etc…, sometimes their own and sometimes somebody else’s, so it was nothing out of the ordinary when someone posted a lovely ‘Van Gogh’ this morning, which inspired many thoughts, but maybe not the ones intended, because that’s not how the inspiration of thoughts always, or even usually, works.
It is a lovely painting, and very typical of Van Gogh’s work, called “The Red Tree House”, it evokes a scene at the edge of a village, a row of neat houses with gardens behind the wall, and one tree which was casting its shadow on the wall of a house, making it a temporary work of art in itself.
But, as one person in the comments section pointed out, it is not a Van Gogh. The Red Tree House was painted in 1890 by an artist named Leo Marie Gausson. Checking his dates, he was a contemporary of Van Gogh, but lived to the ripe and happy age of 88, i.e. into the 1940s so, despite the great disparity in their levels of fame, he was much more successful in the game of life than Van Gogh. And he was probably every bit as much the brilliant painter, but, due to the limited storage space within the human cranium, we only have room to remember a few famous people from every field, from every era, and it’s real hard to know who will make that final cut.
We can all name several current movie stars we like, and popular musicians, but take it back a few decades and the number is smaller, take it back a century or so and the number is smaller still. It’s as if we have a zip drive in our heads.
I’m not trying to diminish Van Gogh’s greatness, his brilliance, his talent and his vision, but he was apparently not the only one painting that kind of thing in that kind of way at that time. At least part of his current fame is due to his sad life story. He sold very little during his own lifetime, and what he did was mostly bought, very discreetly, by Theo Van Gogh, who felt bad for his weird and socially unacceptable brother.
So, in death, he has become the patron saint of artists who will never be famous in life. We can all believe, rightly or delusionally, that people of future generations will see our paintings, sculptures, books or whatever, and recognize us as the geniuses we know, deep in our hearts, that we are. Van Gogh’s death absolves us of our mediocrity.

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