(Portrait of Adeline Ravoux by Vincent Van Gogh)
Standing in front of a painting by Van Gogh is different than standing in front of a painting by anyone else.
Time becomes viscous. Your insides turn wobbly. Your eyes turn wet. Like a child, you want to touch his wiggles, his crosses, his splotches. You want to touch him. The artist. The man. Vincent.
I don't feel quite the same compulsion to connect with Picasso, with Matisse, with Cezanne. Sure, in a print, at home, I might like any one of them better. But when confronted by the hot topography of paint-on-canvas, I'm not as unmoored by their work. I'm not as moved. It's not the ear-cutting, either. It's not our societal obsession for romanticizing the eccentric, the different, the troubled.
It's simply that, more than any other artist, Van Gogh seems both bracingly there in his work and most profoundly not. There it is—the primacy of an impulse stationed by the pigments of the past. Such frenetic, bubbling life! Such a quietude of death. This is the contradiction coursing through all of our fates, but rarely do we feel it as viscerally, like a swipe of neon through the gut.
So I stand, for as long as I can, letting the current go through me.
And what does the girl in the painting—young Adeline Ravoux—look toward, so piercingly and true?
Not at us, I'm sure.