Here in the Art Institute of Chicago I am resting on a bench in a large room surrounded by paintings done by mad men. In front of me is Seurat’s sunny day in the park. But there is something else in this room; the greatest painters of the 1800’s and here and in loud conversation all around me.
I can feel their presence in the pure intention in their work. They are very much alive, standing here dressed in their work clothes, covered in paint. I can hear Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954) loudly discussing how these painting are not the best of their work, and how we should have seen the ones they painted over or used as firewood. These men have bled their lives, their fears and their loves onto these canvases.
Here is Georges Seurat (1859-1891) standing before me, the best dressed of them all. An artist, a painter yes, but always a gentleman. He was always neat, even as a boy. And now he is calling over to his friends and cohorts, Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) telling them the story about how the best painting he ever did he destroyed in spite when his mistress left.
Degas over there looks rough standing next to his ‘Dancers In Pink’. He painted emotions, truth in color, from scenes of bar life to delicate ballet dancers. He longs to join friends in the physical realm for just one more glass of absinthe.
And right over there is Van Gogh standing next to his absurdly yellow sunflowers, his orange sky, and his blue and green faces. He is dressed in dark pants, muddy boots and a white shirt. He is covered in paint, on his face, in his hair, and looks as if he hasn’t slept for days. He stares me down as if saying, ‘it’s my perspective, you don’t have to agree, there is no right or wrong answer.’
Did you ever wonder where we would be if these men had quit? This room would be bare and I would be alone, lost in my insane doubts.
But they didn’t quit when life became hard, when the heat was cut off and their rooms grew cold, or when the greatest of their works were being misunderstood by those resisting a new way of seeing. This group of unreasonable men, who are now in loud conversation around me, kept on going, completing canvas after canvas. How? They simply finished their canvases! I let out a big Buddha laugh; I get it!
So here I am in 2007 struggling with the same dilemma artists have always struggled with; can I keep going? What do I say to the ghost of Van Gogh? I say this; I am going to do as you have done, I’m going to be unreasonable and I’m not going to quit. I AM going back to work.
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