Vincent Van Gogh's legacy of love

WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?: Van Gogh's work on show in Melbourne. Photo: Penny Stephens
WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?: Van Gogh's work on show in Melbourne. Photo: Penny Stephens

I was lucky enough to travel to Melbourne to see Van Gogh’s exhibition at the weekend. 

The queues were enormous and as I waited in the snaking line, I was struck by the diversity of people who were drawn to see his paintings.  From all cultures, ages, walks of life, it seemed that the love of this man’s art unites us. 

There is something special that comes from noticing the commonality of people, rather than focusing on our differences. 

To help me pass the time I tried to see each person I passed as someone, not just another face in the crowd.  To choose to really see them, not a judgement of who they may be.  A person, not a mother, not a student, not an old man. 

It is Van Gogh’s art that people love, but perhaps also his story, which fascinates us. We all know of his mental illness, his ear, and his early death by suicide at 37. 

I was reminded also of the loves in his life. His art, his connection to nature and the seasons and especially the love of his brother Theo, who was the most connected and enduring relationship in his life. 

Van Gogh said “What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low.  All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.”

We of course only know of Van Gogh’s beauty because of his art and he does show the world what he had in his heart and for that we are grateful. 

Perhaps his legacy is beyond that of his art, and is also in his story, which was to encourage us to see people as more than our convenient judgements.  As a person who has something to offer us all. 

Perhaps the other great legacy is in the story of the love of Vincent’s brother Theo. It is he who was Vincent’s unfailing financial and emotional support and encouragement of his art during his life and how important that was for him. 

As the crowds walk past the art of over a century ago, I hope we can appreciate the art as well as the message about people, including those with mental illness, left for us by both men.  

Tarnya Davis is a clinical and forensic psychologist and principal of NewPsych Psychologists.

Perhaps his legacy is beyond that of his art, and is also in his story, which was to encourage us to see people as more than our convenient judgements. As a person who has something to offer us all.