Painting Mondays: The Harvest and The Story

Vincent van Gogh’s The Harvest at La Crau is the painting that inspired Vincent, Theo and the Fox. Here we learn more about the painting and how it led to a children’s tale about growing up.

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During the time he lived in Provence, van Gogh braved the heat of the day and went out numerous times to paint the glorious countryside. He  completed The Harvest at La Crau, with Montmajour in the Background in June of 1888.

If ever a painting captured the beauty of a summer day in the country, this one is it. The color scheme is particularly appropriate, with a blue sky, blue carts, and blue sides of barns  encircled by the orange of the foreground, the wheat stack and the roofs of houses. These elements highlight the almost luminescent gold of the wheat that dominates the image. The brilliant red wagon wheels in the middle right of the picture draw the eye on a line leading back to the white Abbey of Montmajour in the far background of the upper left. Van Gogh was fascinated with the Abbey, visiting it at least 50 times.

Wheat fields are a subject for many of van Gogh’s paintings and can be seen as metaphors for humanity’s cycles of life. Which brings us to children and growing up. How did this painting inspire Vincent, Theo and the Fox? Here is the story behind the story.

To get my son to go on exercise walks with me I would tell him stories. They were simple action tales: Suddenly, a monster…Bam, a hero…Wham another monster. And then one day a real monster struck: Mark had a series of lung infections and several times a day had to sit still for twenty minutes breathing through a nebulizer. Not what an active 5 year old boy wants to do! Just before one of these episodes his grandmother was visiting and we had all gone to the National Gallery of Art to see an exhibit of van Gogh’s paintings. She bought the exhibit catalog, Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam by Richard Kendall with contributions by John Leighton and Sjraar van Heugten. One afternoon when Mark was being nebulized, he asked me to tell a story. I did not have it in me. He pointed to the catalog saying, “Read me the story.” I tried to explain, “It’s not a story.” Neither he nor Grandma would let me off easy. I had to “read” the catalog to him.

What to do? An art catalog is not a wham, bam action tale. I opened it at random and it showed The Harvest at La Crau. I thought to myself, “OK, Vincent has to be a boy to make this interesting…but what is he doing?” I surprised myself by saying, “One day, when he was a boy, Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo, were looking at the harvest when they saw a fox sneak into the cart.” That picture and that idea became the start of Vincent, Theo and the Fox. Vincent and Theo chased the fox through a bunch of van Gogh’s paintings until the nebulizer was done. At that point, the fox got away and the boys went home.

The tale kept Mark engaged but it was not really a story yet. I knew it needed more. I asked myself, “What do boys do?” The answer, of course, is that they grow up. And while they grow up they wonder what they will become. We all know that van Gogh became a painter, but he didn’t go there directly, trying a number of different jobs first. So as a boy in a story there is wonder and mystery when Vincent thinks about growing up. I came up with the idea that the fox was young too—he was also trying to grow up and find his way in the world. And that, I believe, is what makes Vincent, Theo and the Fox a delightful tale. We have two boys and a fox thinking about growing up and through their actions teaching each other about life. The writer, Susan Sontag, writes that “art is not only about something, it is something.” By this, she means that art isn’t like science or history, it doesn’t teach you facts you should know. Rather, literature gives readers an experience from which they learn and take their own lessons. I like to think that Vincent, Theo and the Fox achieves this: it does not teach about growing up, it lets readers learn about it.

Because the art is beautiful and chase tales are exciting, young readers don’t “get” what they are experiencing until it is over. But my hope is that the story stays with children and they learn while they process the experience of the story. Because the book gives a biography of van Gogh in an epilogue, children learn about van Gogh while processing the experience of the story. I think this really engages them in van Gogh’s art and gives the story more depth.

What do you think about the story? What do your children get from it? If you want to leave comments I will read them with interest.

Thanks, Ted Macaluso

Ted Macaluso writes books for kids that make art more fun. His book, Vincent, Theo and the Fox, is a fictional adventure about the young Vincent van Gogh that teaches about growing up and learning from failure (for ages 4 – 10). He lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, son, and kind hearted dog. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

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© 2016 by Ted Macaluso. All Rights Reserved.

Vincent van Gogh, Easel Paintings and a bit of Michael Jackson

Near the end of Vincent, Theo and the Fox, the young Vincent van Gogh thinks about what he might become when he grows up. When he thinks about becoming a painter, he thinks about easels. It turns out that lots of artists use easels in their self-portraits. What do these paintings mean?

“And [Vincent] thought about what it would mean to be a painter. He thought about standing at an easel in a studio. Then he thought about carrying an easel and paint to capture the landscapes he and Theo had seen.”

Vincent, Theo and the Fox is a story about Vincent van Gogh and growing up (for ages 4-10). It is illustrated with 30 of van Gogh’s paintings (including the two above). Some readers want to know more about the paintings so, on Mondays, I blog about one or more of them.

One of Vincent van Gogh’s more famous self-portraits (above left) is from 1888 and shows him standing at an easel. Paul Cezanne adopted a very similar pose in an 1885 self-portrait, as did Camille Corot in 1825, Peder Severin Kroyer in 1902 and Marc Chagall in 1914.

Some artists get quite imaginative with their easel-involved self portraits. As far back as 1605, Annibale Carracci painted his self portrait as if it were an unfinished painting propped on an easel (perhaps, as art critic Laura Cumming points out, to symbolize that he is like all men a work in progress). More recently, Norman Rockwell gave the genre a wonderful twist with his Triple Self-Portrait (which emphasizes the importance of the mirror to self-portraiture).

But why include an easel in a self-portrait? Is it the same as a stonemason, say, posing with a mallet and chisel (or the picture of me posing with a laptop above my bio)? Tools of the trade are important and there can be an aspect of advertising involved in artist self-portraits. A self-portrait shows the skill of an artist. A potential patron can compare the artist to her self-portrait and decide whether or not to commission a work. But there is, I think, more significance than that in both the idea of easels and self-portraits themselves.

The history of easel paintings is interesting. The website essentialvermeer.com gives some insight. The word “easel” comes from the Dutch word, ezel, meaning donkey. Around 1600, the word started to be used in its secondary sense of a stand used to support paintings. Easels, as stands, have probably been around since the ancient Egyptians. But, until the 13th century, paintings tended to be large: murals and wall-paintings. After the 13th century, there was growing public interest in acquiring art. Meeting that desire required smaller paintings, namely ones that could be done on an easel. Ever since, easel paintings have become the typical form of modern painting. Being highly transportable, easel paintings were easy to buy and sell, easel painting facilitated the growth of the art market.

Basically, easel paintings are an embodiment of a mind switch in the art world. Painting became secular. Fine art was no longer just for chapels and castle walls. Easel paintings were objects of worth in their own right. Also, an easel, with its freedom from a fixed location, makes a subtle assertion of the independence of the art of painting and the profession of painter.

But, with or without easels, self-portraits are often gripping to see. They are the artist’s answer to the eternal question, “Who am I?” The author of A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits, Laura Cumming, points out:

“Self-portraits make artists present as the embodiment of their art; it sounds so neat and succinct. But they often do so only to ask who or what this person is who is looking back from the mirror, how dismaying it is to be alone, how hard it is to represent or even just to be oneself.

Van Gogh had the courage to look in the mirror numerous times, painting 41 self portraits. Vincent–and all the other artists who have done serial self-portraits–make me think of Michael Jackson’s wonderful hit, “Man in the Mirror.” Here is a YouTube tribute by the person who wrote the song for (and performed it with) Jackson, Siedah Garrett.

 

– Ted Macaluso

Ted Macaluso writes books for kids that make art more fun. Born in Brooklyn, he was a successful researcher on child nutrition and hunger before turning full-time to writing. His book, Vincent, Theo and the Fox, is a fictional adventure about the young Vincent van Gogh that teaches about growing up and learning from failure (for ages 4 – 10). He now lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, son, and kind hearted dog. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

 

Text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced provided attribution back to tedmacaluso.com is included. Uses affiliate links.

The Yellow House: Sunflowers and a Sword

In Vincent, Theo and the Fox, the first place the fox visits on his adventure is Vincent van Gogh’s yellow house in Arles. In art history, this house was where van Gogh created some of his greatest paintings and experienced some of his worst tragedies. Today, we look deeper into this incredible painting.

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The fox ran to a village. He saw a yellow house and a restaurant. Boy was he hungry. The fox was young. That morning, he had left home determined to learn his way in the world. “I shall be like a human and eat in that restaurant,” he thought.

Vincent, Theo and the Fox is a story about Vincent van Gogh and growing up (for ages 4-10). It is illustrated with 30 of van Gogh’s paintings. Some readers want to know more about the paintings so, on Mondays, I blog about one or more of them.

When Van Gogh moved to Arles, he lived in temporary lodgings before finding the yellow house in May 1888. The house was two blocks from the Rhone river. There was a small grocery store next to the house (in the painting, the building to the left, with banner and awning). Vincent frequently ate at the pink-hued restaurant to the right. In a letter to his sister, van Gogh described the building as “painted in yellow colour of fresh butter on the outside…it stands in the full sunlight in a square which has a green garden…it is completely whitewashed inside, and the floor is made of red bricks. And over it there is the intensively blue sky. In this I can live and breath, meditate and paint.”

He rented four rooms. image019On the ground floor, he made two large rooms into his atelier (studio) and a kitchen. Upstairs, on the left was Vincent’s famous bedroom (in the painting above, the one with one green shutter open). The other room, with both shutters open in the painting, was a guest room.

The guest room was important to Vincent. He hoped to attract other artists to Arles and start an artists’ colony, a “studio of the south” as he termed it. He wanted painter Paul Gauguin to be the head of the colony. As Michael Prodger points out, the two artists made a very odd pair. Theo van Gogh brought the two men together. Theo was Gauguin’s art dealer and Vincent’s sole source of support; he thought it would be good for Gauguin to keep an eye on Vincent. Gauguin wanted to keep Theo as his dealer and wanted to save money on rent so that he could leave for Tahiti earlier.

work_25At first, Vincent was excited that Gauguin was going to join him in Arles. He proceeded to decorate the house, buying used furniture and making paintings for the dwelling, including four of his sunflower paintings. Today, with sunflowers such as the one on the left, used on greeting cards, it is hard to appreciate how beautiful, new and intense they were.

Unfortunately, the two men had contrasting personalities. After nine weeks they fought and, in the fight, van Gogh lost his ear. The popular story is that van Gogh cut off his own ear with a razor. However, in a 2009 study, two German art historians argue that Gauguin cut off the ear with a sword he always carried. The two men “kept a “pact of silence” – Gauguin to avoid prosecution and Van Gogh in a vain attempt to keep a friend with whom he was hopelessly infatuated.” The truth, of course, is buried in the past. Personally, given Gauguin’s narcissism, meanness, and treatment of underage women in Tahiti; I prefer to believe the account of the German scholars.

51jilwaqgyl-_sx313_bo1204203200_Two books about the time van Gogh and Gauguin were together may be of interest. For adults there is The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence by Martin Gayford.

512tkmkpg3l-_sx357_bo1204203200_For children, Susan Goldman Rubin (author) and Jos. A. Smith (illustrator) wrote a picture book called The Yellow House: Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin Side by Side. It was published in connection with the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibit Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South. It is no longer in print. To find it you will have to go to the library or buy it used.

The real yellow house was bombed during World War II and no longer exists (although there is a placard there). The painting never left the artist’s estate and is on permanent loan to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

– Ted Macaluso

Ted Macaluso writes books for kids that make art more fun. Born in Brooklyn, he was a successful researcher on child nutrition and hunger before turning full-time to writing. His book, Vincent, Theo and the Fox, is a fictional adventure about the young Vincent van Gogh that teaches about growing up and learning from failure (for ages 4 – 10). He now lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, son, and kind hearted dog. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

Text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced provided attribution back to tedmacaluso.com is included. Uses affiliate links.

Painting Mondays: Van Gogh, a Stagecoach to the Sea, and a Gypsy Caravan

In the summer of 1888, Vincent van Gogh took a stagecoach trip to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a tiny fishing village on the Mediterranean Sea. Inspired by the views and an encounter with gypsies, three of the paintings in Vincent, Theo and the Fox come from that one-week visit.

Vincent, Theo and the Fox, is a story about Vincent van Gogh and growing up (for ages 4-10). It is illustrated with 30 of van Gogh’s paintings. Some readers want to know more about the paintings, so, on Mondays, I blog about them. Today, there are three to discuss.

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“At first, the fox loved the rocking of his boat and the snap of wind in the sails…”

 

 

During the time van Gogh was living in Arles, he made a trip to Saintes-Maries, to recuperate from health-problems and to make some seaside paintings. In May or June of 1888, when he made the trip, the village had less than 100 houses. According to Lucina Ward, International Art Curator for the National Gallery of Australia, the area “was still a sterile salty plain of lagoons and marshes, populated by flamingos, wild bulls and white horses.” Van Gogh was fascinated with the changing colors of the water. He wrote that the “Mediterranean Sea is a mackerel color: in other words, changeable – you do not always know whether it is green or purple, you do not always know if it is blue, as the next moment the ever-changing sheen has assumed a pink or a gray tint” (quote found in Saintes-Maries (Van Gogh series).

The painting above, Seascape at Saintes-Maries, and the one below, Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Marie, illustrate an early part of the story of Vincent, Theo and the Fox. As young boys, Vincent and his brother, Theo, are chasing a fox to save the creature from a farmer. Before they can catch him, the quick-witted animal manages to steal a boat. Like Vincent and Theo, the fox is young and trying to learn his way in the world. At first, the furry creature thinks he might become a sailor. But it doesn’t take long for the fox to realize he does not belong at sea. The paintings illustrate this part of the story.

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“When the boat drifted to shore the fox jumped out and started running.”

 

The village of Saintes-Maries is named after the three Marys of the Bible (Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome, and Mary Jacobe). It was (and still is) significant to the Romany gypsies of Europe. Each year they make a pilgrimage to the village to honor Saint Sarah (sometimes known as Black Sara). Believed to be the Egyptian servant of the three Marys, she is their patron saint. Van Gogh encountered the gypsies there. Later, after returning to Arles, he made today’s third painting (below), Encampment of Gypsies with Caravans.

This painting comes near the end of the story. Vincent and Theo see the fox find happiness only after he tried–and failed at–different occupations. Young Vincent starts to think about what he will be when he grows up and what he will try as he grows. The range of “respectable” choices is overwhelming and, mentally, Vincent needs a break–a break only fantasies of gypsies can supply.

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“For a short time Vincent even thought about running away to join a gypsy camp.”

 

 

We don’t know how much van Gogh interacted with any of the gypsies during his sojourn to Saintes-Maries but he was undoubtedly drawn to their romantic lifestyle. Like him, they were socially ostracized. To quote Lucina Ward once more, in the gypsy caravan:

“the frieze of figures, vehicles and horses…seems designed to emphasise the flatness of the landscape. Only the tree at right and the scrubby vegetation at left offer refuge from the sun. The empty foreground adds to the feeling of harsh desolation, a suggestion, perhaps, of the peripheral position of gypsy people. The intensity of the light suggests the glorious palette of works to come…”

Three wonderful paintings and more to come as we explore van Gogh’s world. Stay tuned!

– Ted Macaluso

Ted Macaluso writes books for kids that make art more fun. Born in Brooklyn, he was a successful researcher on child nutrition and hunger before turning full-time to writing. His book, Vincent, Theo and the Fox, is a fictional adventure about the young Vincent van Gogh that teaches about growing up and learning from failure (for ages 4 – 10) . He now lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, son, and kind hearted dog. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

Text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced provided attribution back to tedmacaluso.com is included.

Painting Mondays: The Lover and The Poet in Van Gogh’s Bedroom

Vincent van Gogh hung two paintings in his bedroom: a portrait of a lover and one of a poet. What can these two artworks tell us about his life?

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On Mondays, I write about one of the paintings that illustrate my picture book,  Vincent, Theo and the Fox, which is an adventure story about Vincent van Gogh for ages 4 and up. These posts are primarily for parents and older children interested in learning more about van Gogh’s artwork and life. Today’s painting, The Lover (Portrait of Milliet, Second Lieutenant of the Zouaves), appears two-thirds of the way through the tale. As young Vincent and Theo are returning home from their adventure, Vincent thinks about what he might become when he grows up. In my book, Vincent thinks about eight possible occupations. Today’s painting illustrates one of the seven possibilities–“being a lieutenant in a distant army”–that Vincent considers before thinking about being the  painter he would become.

The painting itself is interesting for at least two reasons. First, the portrait is about someone significant to van Gogh. In 1888, Paul-Eugène Milliet became one of van Gogh’s few friends in Arles. He became Vincent’s painting and drinking companion. A soldier with an interest in art, Milliet took drawing lessons from van Gogh and the two went on painting forays together. At one point, he was entrusted with 36 of van Gogh’s works to carry to Paris and give to van Gogh’s brother, Theo. When he returned, he hauled home Japanese woodcuts for Vincent from Theo.

But why did van Gogh want to paint Milliet’s portrait?  It was not because they were drinking buddies or teacher and pupil; he wanted to do the portrait because Milliet appeared to be the epitome of a lover in van Gogh’s eyes. Writing to Theo, van Gogh explained that he wanted to paint Milliet “because he’s good-looking, very jaunty, very easy-going in his appearance, and he’d suit me down to the ground for a painting of lovers.”

Van Gogh’s relationships with women were difficult, to say the least. His life was full of unrequited love, setbacks, and rejections. He admired Milliet’s romantic escapades. Van Gogh wrote his brother, Theo, that “Milliet’s lucky, he has all the Arlésiennes he wants, but there you are, he can’t paint them, and if he was a painter he wouldn’t have any.” [For your consideration, here are two scholarly books about van Gogh’s relationships with women: Van Gogh and Love by Hans Luijten and Van Gogh’s Women: His Love Affairs and a Journey into Madness by Derek Fell.]

But, back to the painting. The second reason why it is interesting is that it is one of the two paintings Vincent hung over his bed. You can see it in the first version of Vincent’s famous paintings of his bedroom. In the first version, Vincent painted his actual room, with the portrait of Milliet and another of Eugene Boch. In the second (shown below) and the third versions, the portraits are replaced by two different pairs of a self portrait and an  imagined women. Interestingly, there are always two pillows on Vincent’s bed, suggesting that the artist did not want to be alone.

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One has to wonder what Vincent felt. His admiration of Milliet as the epitome of a lover, the portrait’s placement in his bedroom, and his inadequate experiences with women, combine to make me think of Foreigner’s haunting lyrics:

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far, to change this lonely life

I want to know what love is, I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me

Foreigner – I Want To Know What Love Is Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Vincent, according to the Van Gogh Museum, eventually accepted that he was unlucky in love and turned to his ‘requited loves’ – art, nature and his brother Theo. Still, I wish he could have found a women with whom he could have known a deep and satisfying love.

Several artists have recorded “I Want To Know What Love Is.” Here is Mariah Carey’s beautiful 2009 performance:

The appearance of the gospel choir near the end of Carey’s performance is both true to the original song and important as we think about van Gogh. Mick Jones was interviewed after writing the hit song. In it, he reflected that, while the lyrics started on a personal level, he “ended up putting a gospel choir on it. And you know, realized suddenly that I’d written almost a spiritual song, almost a gospel song.” And spirituality brings us back to van Gogh’s bedroom and the second painting on his wall.

portrait-of-eugene-boch-1888largeThe second painting. Vincent’s painting, The Poet: Eugène Boch (right), was also on the wall of his bedroom. In a letter to his brother, van Gogh said, “I should like to paint the portrait of a fellow artist who dreams great dreams.” The artist was thinking of both love and infinity: “I would like to convey in the picture my appreciation, the love that I have for him.  […] Behind his head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of this shabby apartment, I will paint infinity, I will do a simple background of the richest blue, the most intense blue that I can create, and through this simple combination of the bright head against this rich, blue background, I will obtain a mysterious effect, like a star in the depths of an azure sky.”

Vincent was always seeking a connection to the infinite and the spiritual; his work is infused with those themes. I find comfort in knowing that–no matter how his relationships with women went–in his bedroom Vincent also found love in the broadest–indeed, infinite–sense.

I would love to know what you think–leave a comment below if you want.

– Ted Macaluso

Note: There will not be a Painting Mondays post next week as I am going on vacation. I know this may be hard for some, but have faith: the blog will return in two weeks.

If you haven’t yet seen Vincent, Theo and the Fox, you can check it out here.

 

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group. All other text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced provided attribution to http://www.tedmacaluso.com is included.

Painting Mondays. The Art of the Re-Do: From van Gogh to Steely Dan

“Don’t be a copycat,” people say. Teachers warn students not to plagiarize. But have you ever said something and later thought you could have said it better? Vincent van Gogh would repeat his paintings. Today, we look at one of them and ask what it tells us about creativity.

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I had the good fortune to visit The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. two days ago. The Road Menders (above) is in their permanent collection. It is also one of the paintings used to illustrate my children’s book, Vincent, Theo and the Fox.

There are two versions of the painting: the one in the Phillips Collection and another (below), titled The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Remy), held in the Cleveland Museum of Artlarge-plane-trees-1889blog

In 2013, the Phillips Collection brought the two paintings together for Van Gogh Repetitions, an exhibition that included 13 examples of van Gogh’s penchant to sometimes re-do his paintings.

Art teachers in prior centuries believed that making copies of artworks was a valuable practice in learning art. Later, the idea of copying fell into disfavor in some circles. It was felt that an artistic genius should capture and express the original; should make an “authentic” representation or gesture of the subject; not focus on the mundane practice of, eww!, copying. Besides, the thought went, while an original is “imaginative,” a copy borders on being a fake–and a copy can come dangerously close to plagiarism.

Van Gogh’s repetitions, therefore, did not receive serious comparative study for some years. The exhibition at the Phillips Collection used modern techniques, like x-ray analysis, to establish that the version held by the Cleveland Museum came first (for example, x-rays show erasures and changes underneath the top-level paint in The Large Plane Trees; these are not present in The Road Menders). Visual analysis shows that the version held by the Phillips Collection features smoother brush strokes. There’s more. Henry Adams, in an excellent New York Times article, Seeing Double: Van Gogh the Tweaker, interviewed one of the exhibition’s curators, William Robinson. While the two paintings are very similar, Robinson points out that in The Road Menders van Gogh moved the street lamp for artistic effect, added more lines to the trees, and included an extra person digging. You can find other differences between the two images if you examine them closely, above.

Why did van Gogh “copy” his paintings? In a letter to his brother, Theo, van Gogh said that the repetitions were an opportunity to improve and clarify. Adams’ Seeing Double article further explains that, when working outdoors, van Gogh would be beset by gawking onlookers and the light would change. It was in the studio, van Gogh told Theo, that “he could transform a painting from a direct transcription of a scene into a true work of the imagination.” Take that, anti-copy purists!

Repetition is also modern. Using these two paintings, Michael Lobel, a professor of art history at Purchase College, S.U.N.Y., addressed van Gogh’s “contemporaneity” in an article in the May 2014 issue of Art in America magazine. Van Gogh remains relevant to the modern art world, he says, because his embrace of repetition lets us perceive him:

as an artist who understood the modern condition of the image as repeating and repeatable and subject to extensive circulation in the form of reproductions….this version of van Gogh is more compatible with the artistic outlook of our own time, in which the strategy of appropriation has become a central device in the artist’s toolkit.

Barbara J. King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, makes an additional observation. In her NPR Cosmos & Culture blog, Van Gogh Teaches Us How To Keep Life Interesting, she points out that  copying as a way to perfect artistic technique is not unusual  (musicians, for example, practice many hours every day). King’s insight is that van Gogh’s repetitions are not about copying or practicing in any conventional sense. Instead, she points out that van Gogh’s repetitions are about looking at one’s finished, visible-to-the-public product and deciding to do it again, almost the same, but not quite.

I agree with King. Creative repetition gives incredible freedom and growth. Live concerts are exciting because each performance is slightly different. Rather than getting caught up in perfectionism, in worrying about whether one’s so-called finished product is good or bad, we would do well to heed King’s NPR blog post. She highlights the lesson van Gogh teaches us with his repetitions: “embrace and take delight in an iterative process…you can appreciate what happens when a new mosaic of meaning emerges from the previous one.” As ’70s rock band Steely Dan sings and (for fellow jazz lovers) the more recent Philipe Saisse Trio plays, Do It Again.

– Ted Macaluso

How is The Road Menders used in Vincent, Theo and the Fox? The book is an adventure story that introduces children 4 – 8 to van Gogh’s paintings in a fun, exciting way. The tale starts with young Vincent and Theo trying to catch a fox. After the young boys have finished chasing the animal, they reflect on how the fox tried and failed at different activities before finding happiness. Vincent thinks he too will try different things as he grows up. One is to be a road mender. Today’s painting illustrates that thought. If you haven’t seen the book yet, you can check it out here.

 

© 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced provided you include attribution back to http://www.tedmacaluso.com.

 

Painting Mondays: The Goat Herd

It’s van Gogh’s birthday in two days, which got me asking: what was his earliest drawing? What should we do to celebrate? Today, we discuss his early drawings and, yes, I’m giving away 3 free copies of Vincent, Theo and the Fox.

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Vincent van Gogh would be 163 years old on Wednesday. He was born March 30, 1853. Although Vincent did not think of himself as a painter until he turned 27, he was an artist much earlier. As far as I can tell, The Goat Herd is his earliest surviving drawing. He was not quite 10 years old when he created it in October of 1862. (It is very hard to find reliable scholarly information on van Gogh’s drawings made before 1877. WikiArt.org and David Brooks’ phenomenal vggallery.com have The Goat Herd as his first. After 10 pages deep on a Google search, nothing contradicts that. If you know of an earlier sketch, please leave a comment below.)

Here two other early drawings by van Gogh (courtesy of WikiArt.org): Corinthian Capital (from when Vincent was 10) and Two Sketches of a Man Leaning on His Spade (when he was 14).

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As David Brooks asks, “When does genius begin?” Clearly, quite early for van Gogh.

Van Gogh believed one had to learn to draw before one could paint. Although his adult drawings are not as widely appreciated as his paintings, they are still excellent. Here is a wonderful reference book: Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series).

Where does today’s artwork appear in Vincent, Theo and the Fox? It is not part of the story but appears in his biography at the end of the book.

And speaking of Vincent, Theo and the Fox, to celebrate van Gogh’s birthday I’m giving away three copies of the book.

Click here to enter giveaway (administered by Amazon.com). NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Apr 4, 2016 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.

Hope you win,

Ted Macaluso

 

© 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced if attribution is given back to http://www.tedmacaluso.com.