Van Gogh the Great

Yeah…the art world doesn’t add “The Great” to artists. But if they did, Van Gogh would be one of those “greats.”

I LOVE Van Gogh. Not just because his paintings are beautiful and vibrant, but because he struggled through life. He wasn’t kissed by the angel of art on the day of his birth, he struggled through multiple jobs just to FIND art (and even then, it was at the suggestion of his little brother,) and once he started down that path, he had to learn how to do basic things, like…draw.

We have drawings from Van Gogh’s early years showing people who had no elbows…heads that were too big…or too flat. Legs that were longer than a basketball player…he bought books, took classes, drew for hours a day until he conquered drawing…then tackled painting.

And even then, he painted in his own way too, filling canvases with dots, and dashes, and swirls of color. Where previous artists would have placed a smooth field of color, and the impressionists would have dabbled layers of colors, Van Gogh filled his canvases with MOVEMENT.

If you remmber back to Degas, we learned that horizonal and vertical lines indicated strength, stability, structure, but a static thing. Buildings are built on horizontals and verticals and they don’t move, they are stable.

Diagonals and curved lines indicated movements, because things cannot remain in a diagonal state for long, and we associate swirls with movement as well: the movement clothes as a dancer spins, the swirl of leaves in a tree or the eddies of water in a fast-moving stream.

Filling his canvases with these broken, swirling lines of color, blending them on the canvas, even heaping the colors into three-dimensional forms, Van Gogh created something so intense and vibrant. Trees seem to shiver in the breezes frozen beyond those frames, the sun radiates heat as well as light, and the stars twinkle. Even in doing this project, I was astonished to discover many of his seemingly-solid backgrounds are, in fact filled with a basket-weave style brushstrokes.

So much couldn’t fit in this packet: More selections of Van Gogh’s works (There’s already more here than in earlier packets! Sorry-not-sorry!) More stories I dug up, or articles about the descendants of the Van Gogh family and their role in protecting the Van Gogh legacy. The role Theo played in Van Gogh’s life, but perhaps more importantly, the role his wife (and soon widow) played in Van Gogh’s LEGACY. (SHE is the unsung hero for anyone who ever appreciates Van Gogh! Without her, the paintings would-literally-have been burnt!) Stories of the brand new colors Van Gogh chose, but how some are now changing colors, and how scientists and historians are using these works to discover just HOW fugitive colors happen (and that Van Gogh’s famous room was originally…purple.)

Now, there are darknesses and difficulties to Van Gogh’s life, and there is no getting around that. He suffered with major bouts of depression. He mutilated himself just before Christmas 1888. (The ear-cutting incident, if you’ve ever heard of that) He had to be repeatedly hospitalized when his depression nearly overwhelmed him, and feared he would never get better. Ultimately, in case you didn’t now, he died a violent death from a gunshot wound. Traditionally, historians and friends of Van Gogh’s said he shot himself in a suicide attempt. Recent research has raised the question whether Van Gogh was the victim of an accidental shooting by a few stupid teenagers playing cowboy with a real weapon, and Van Gogh both tried to shield them from punishment, and accepted this as his way out of a life that was so very hard.

Because I know many peole use these packets and I cannot know how many of you out there may deal with the trauma of mental illness, depression, or even suicide or violence within your own background or in your classes, I chose to not mention it in the biography. It simply says Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo (who supported Vincent) died six months apart…which is true. Some of the resources I suggest are labeled with whether or not the information about the ear mutilation or possible suicide are in those resources. It’s up to you and the parents to decide how they want to approach this topic.

Since both my husband and I have had friends who committed suicide, and family members who struggle with some forms of mental illness, it touches home for me. We want to make sure our kiddos know about these things, but I prefer being ready for questions ahead of time. So that’s how I chose to deal with this topic. But Van Gogh’s life is difficult to really delve into. He could see beauty so clearly. He could love so deeply and sacrificially…and he hurt so intensely.

Anyway, here’s the tutor packet. I’m sorry about the notes still unfinished. I’ll get to those tomorrow, and post them here. The good news is, the pronunciation of Van Gogh’s name is it’s own page in the packet! And the projects are actually pretty self explanatory. One is so similar to the Morisot project last week they’re nearly identical. Just thicken the paint and heap it up on the canvas! The other is a take on the now-famous Starry Night, which is also self-explanatory. So there may not be much to write about after all!

Remember-it’s the Process, not the Product! Joyful Creating!

C2W18 Vincent Van Gogh Packet