Connections: VanGogh and Nietzche; Too Much in the Sun

Both died mad at the end of the 20th Century, and their incipient fame and death in their prime only suggested how much more of which they were capable. But the similarities between philosopher Nietzsche (1844-1900) and painter Van Gogh (1853-1890) are more than the biographic (e.g. syphilis) or zeitgeist-related. I imagines the same anguished ethos formed the works of both, but I could be imagining things. Their style, however, is palpably similar in different mediums. According to Nietzsche, all philosophers had to be artists in order to completely express their thoughts.

Reaper. 1889.

Deceptively joyous, their works make one feel as if the creator has stared at the sun too long without seeing the fingerprint of god on it. They take radical ways to express a view of the world that is intense and yet accessible on the surface. Influential as they have been, they remain isolated iconoclasts in their paeans.

Their works are accessible only in their apparent joyousness. Van Gogh is repeated on shirts and posters because people find his work pleasant. Nietzsche becomes the easy catch phrase for the undergrad searching for a strident, carefree tone. This view confuses the bright veneer of a conclusion with the strenuous wrestling that went into its making. Within Nietzsche words lies the horror that is in the root of the oldest fairy tales, and Van Gogh paints as one who must paint the flatness of life in the purest pigments and thickest layers because the world enters his consciousness with the cunning of the light that finds the hungover man and makes him wince. Such heightened feeling is not always pleasant, even when it has been transformed into the aesthetic object.

“There are endless corn fields under dull skies, and I’ve not shied away from portraying this sadness and utter loneliness…”- Van Gogh

Wheat Field with Cypresses
Painted around Saint-Remy in early June 1889

Merely the madness of artists on view? Perhaps, in that these men used their art to express a worldview that Conrado de Quiros, a writer for the Phillipean Enquirer, puts it well by saying, “That’s the truly depressing part of it, that the suicidal tendencies afflict the creative and not the destructive. I wouldn’t mind it if our public officials were seized by a sudden epidemic of wanting to commit suicide. But no, the tendency afflicts Plaths and Van Goghs and Nietzsche’s of this world and my friend and my son’s friend and others of their kind. People who feel life so intensely, so acutely, so sharply they are often crushed by it.”

It is a mistake to view these two artists as unrelated raving lunatics. I would venture rather that they are raving artists depict the intensity of life head on and struggle in their valuation thereof. If their similarities do not depict the same temperament exactly, they do the same view of a world as one to reckoned with, in all its glory. A glory that became overwhelming.

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