This blog is a place where fellow colleagues can go to obtain research, read articles, gain insight, laugh a little and find useful tools and tips. I love discussion and want to hear your opinion as well, whether it supports or challenges the posted view. The field of social work is not a walk in the park, and we need the support of others to make it through.
I am a Military Spouse who has had 12 years of experience learning how to juggle a career while moving every few years. I have experience in School Social Work, Private Practice, Community Mental Health, Domestic Violence, Hospital Social Work, Hospice and Home Health. I hold both a Master's and Bachelor's Degree in Social Work and am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in Trauma.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Vincent van Gogh: Behind the Masterpiece

Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite artists.  I remember going to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC with my aunt and meandering through the many rooms and corridors looking at the varying pieces of artwork.  It was there that I first saw "Starry Night" by van Gogh.

"Starry Night"
Vincent van Gogh

I don't know what drew me in first, if it was the way the swirls moved me across the image or if it was the mystery captured with the use of shadows and darkness.  My love for van Gogh's artistry grew that day and has always been tucked away in my heart.  My favorite pieces continue to include "Starry Night" and now also includes "The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum" among others.

I had the opportunity to travel to the Provence of France this summer for a few days before attending a Psychopathology conference in London.  I drove through the mountains and the valleys, getting glimpses of fields of majesty.  I can see why this Dutch Native, van Gogh, chose to spend time in this area.  According to his van Gogh's biography, he spent his last few years in France.

"Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear"
Vincent van Gogh

After van Gogh cut off his ear, it is said that his brother encouraged him to admit himself into an asylum for treatment.  Van Gogh spent a year in the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy, France from May of 1889 to 1890.  He painted several well known pieces while receiving treatment, one being the Starry Night.  Another lesser known painting created while at St. Paul Asylum is the "Enclosed Field with Rising Sun."

"Enclosed Field with Rising Sun"
Vincent van Gogh

I did not have the chance to visit the asylum on my trip, but it is on my list for next time.  It is still a functioning psychiatric hospital to this day.  They have a replica of van Gogh's room along with 20 reproductions of his masterpieces.

It can be easily seen why van Gogh found inspiration from the area, as it is purely magical.  I hope he also found solace and healing.  According to the timeline that is pieced together, he began painting in a fury, sometimes even one painting a day while at St. Paul Asylum.  His symptoms suggest a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, exhibiting symptoms of mania, depression and suicide ideation.  There are conflicting stories about van Gogh's death in 1890.  One account details van Gogh shooting himself with a revolver, not killing himself immediately, but dying a few days later from complications.  Another account is that 2 teenagers were bullying him and accidentally shot van Gogh with a faulty pistol.

After van Gogh's funeral, Emile Bernard (a friend and painter) recounted the following impression:

“On the walls of the room where his body was laid out all his last canvases were hung making a sort of halo for him and the brilliance of the genius that radiated from them made this death even more painful for us artists who were there. The coffin was covered with a simple white cloth and surrounded with masses of flowers, the sunflowers that he loved so much, yellow dahlias, yellow flowers everywhere. It was, you will remember, his favorite color, the symbol of the light that he dreamed of as being in people's hearts as well as in works of art. (
My very last day in France, I stumbled upon a field of sunflowers.  They were glowing in front of the morning sun.  I couldn't help but reflect on van Gogh and his love of flowers, painting and France.  Some have speculated that the circles and waves found in his later paintings are indicative of his declining mental state.  Were his paintings a result of his declining mental health or did he paint to deal with the symptoms and to cope?  To me, it looks like he is searching for hope, for answers.  He is letting his paintbrush tell his story.

Sunflowers in Le Thor, France
© Corrie M. Avila

In summary, I no longer can look at his painting of "Starry Night" without wondering what van Gogh was thinking and dealing with while painting this masterpiece.  I still get caught up in the swirls, lines and darkness and look deep into myself.  Perhaps that is what he was doing as well.


The Vocal Social Worker's Recommended Books: Unquiet Mind and Touched with Fire.

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