I recently went to the exhibit “Becoming Van Gogh” at the Denver Art Museum which proved to be a fascinating exploration into the unconventional 10 year artistic career of Vincent van Gogh. It highlights the progression of the self-taught artist with his early struggles of proportion and perspective, of the human figure and their placement in the landscape. As well as his many experiments with various medias and mediums, and his reluctance into color, all founded in his desire to evoke emotion.
What I found to be most intriguing were the artistic decisions he made while drawing in the field out in nature. A collection of photographs by John Rewald taken from vantage points where van Gogh had used for his studies to essentially “peer over the artist’s shoulder” reveal artistic liberties that Ernst Gombrich remarked in his study Art and Illusion “…[van Gogh] went out into nature to look for material for a picture and (his) artistic wisdom led (him) to organize the elements of the landscape into works of art of marvelous complexity…”(p89) His decisions to omit certain elements or move landmarks and blur backgrounds, reveals an emotional relationship to the landscape that emphasizes a keen understanding of the patterns and cycles of nature and an ability to organize and arrange the key features of a site to reflect a unique setting that does not record an exact representation instead as best explained further by Gombrich “…bears as much relationship to a surveyor’s record as a poem bears to a police report.”
What struck me was the correlation of his artistic decisions used to evoke emotion and create an experience with his paintings, to that of today’s design professions with their shared goals and similar strategies, in our case as landscape architects where our palette is nature and our desire to elicit emotion and create lasting impressions on the people who experience our designs and spaces are central to our profession and core intentions as designers.
The exhibit is near its end, though the Denver Art Museum has published a book Becoming van Gogh complete with the 89 exhibited works with notes and excerpts from letters by van Gogh highlighting his insights into the challenges of the creative process “…sometimes success is the outcome of a string of failures…” and my personal favorite “if one truly loves nature, one finds beauty everywhere.” – Vincent van Gogh.
Becoming van Gogh. Published by Denver Art Museum 2012, Distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London.