Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 26 June 1888, Letter 8, page 2
Thaw Collection, given in honor of Charles E. Pierce, Jr., 2007
That great artist didn't make books, either—Christian literature as a whole would certainly
infuriate him, and its literary products that could find favor beside Luke's gospel, Paul's epistles—so
simple in their hard or warlike form—are few and far between. This great artist—Christ—although
he disdained writing books on ideas & feelings—was certainly much less disdainful of the spoken
word—THE PARABLE above all. (What a sower, what a harvest, what a fig-tree, etc.)
And who would dare tell us that he lied, the day when, scornfully predicting the fall of the buildings
of the Romans, he stated, "heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away?"
Those spoken words, which as a prodigal, great lord he did not even deign to write down,
are one of the highest, the highest summit attained by art, which in them becomes a creative force,
a pure creative power.
These reflections, my dear old Bernard—take us a very long way—a very long way—raising us
above art itself. They enable us to glimpse—the art of making life, the art of being immortal—alive.
Do they have connections with painting? The patron of painters—St. Luke—physician, painter,
evangelist—having for his symbol—alas—nothing but the ox—is there to give us hope.
Nevertheless—our own real life—is humble indeed—our life as painters.
Stagnating under the stupefying yoke of the difficulties of a craft almost impossible to practice
on this so hostile planet, on the surface of which "love of art makes one lose real love."
Since, however, nothing stands in the way—of the supposition that on the other innumerable
planets and suns there may also be lines and shapes and colors—we are still at liberty—to retain
a relative serenity as to the possibilities of doing painting in better and changed conditions of existence—
an existence changed by a phenomenon perhaps no cleverer and no more surprising than
the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly, of the white grub into a cockchafer.
That existence of painter as butterfly would have for its field of action one of the innumerable
© 2007 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam