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Twelve Signs for 2021 – The Art and Spirit of Vincent

Welcome to my new blog!  My resolution for 2021 is to blog each month about what keeps my creative spirit alive.

January is symbolic of Capricorn the Goat. Goats climb every mountain, one hoof at a time. As a result, they keep an eye on the prize. My mother, a Capricorn, announced to us that “hard work never hurt anybody,” nevertheless my Gemini beach-loving oldest brother  dared to tease her: “He is just trying to get my goat,” said she.

Today there is just enough snow on the ground to remind me it is winter. Now I have a good reason to stay inside, while the pandemic still rages and the vaccines slowly appears.  Moreover, it is too cold to get up at 5 so I turn on the light and reach for an oversized journal printed in glossy color, filled with Van Gogh’s paintings.

Since my vocation of artist and therapist drew me to both the wonder and the mystery of Van Gogh I loved finding this text, translated from the French by a psychiatrist who worked at the institution in Saint-Remy de Provence where Van Gogh had voluntarily committed himself for one year. The doctor, also an artist, lovingly paints a portrait of Vincent’s life. Saint-Paul de Mausole became a sanctuary for  Vincent with a staff that protected and cared for him.  Above all,  a place to paint. Today one can visit the restored hospital to see his room, the place where he painted and view art created by residents.

However, I saw a different room at Auvers Sur Oise, a village outside of Paris that I visited in 2019. Awestruck with grief and holiness, I stood on the wooden floor in the tiny barren room.  Vincent had lived there upstairs in the inn for several months after leaving the asylum. They carried Vincent here the day he was shot, as he painted in the wheat fields. While the psychiatrist wrote of ample justification for suicide – manic-depression, epilepsy  toxic poisoning, and excessive drink there is more evidence suggesting he was tormented by the village boys who may have shot him that day. Moreover, the gun was never found. When faced with conflicting realities I go for the positive. He had quite a lot more creative juice in his bones and would have kept on climbing mountains.

Likewise, Vincent’s dedication to art reminds me of another saintly Vincent: Sr. Vincent de Paul, my endearing art professor, full of intensity and passion for art with the holiness of her vocation. Sr. Vincent told her students, “Forget about having lunch. Go out and paint what you see! Think of the artist Ben Shahn who painted  “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti” on the Boston Common the day the two Italians were executed in 1920 as the red scare raged.

Van Gogh came from a family of preachers and art dealers. He tried to be both but failed in the eyes of society. Like Christ he took in the pathos of a world that looks away from suffering. He  proclaimed a brighter world. I too, brother Vincent, paint with the colors of my soul.

No quiet browns or grays, I’ll take my days instead
And fill them ’til they overflow, with rose and cherry red
And should this sunlit world, grow dark one day
The colors of my life will leave a shining light to show the way

(Cy Coleman, “Barnum”)

 Let us keep on keeping on.


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