Pearls from artists* # 425October 21, 2020
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
And yet books were faithful companions for Vincent, an important source of sustenance during his times of melancholy: he periodically re-read his favourites, finding new meaning in the text and illustrations each time. Van Gogh read in at least two ways: first “breathlessly,’ and then ‘by careful exploration.’ But we could add a third and a fourth way: thirdly as an artist, and fourthly from the perspective of the writer he perhaps knew himself to be. To Vincent, reading books meant above all to ‘seek in them the artist who made them,’ as he wrote to his sister Willemien. He sought to open an internal dialogue with other writers as artists, and meditated on their words, stopping to consider and reconsider a phrase to make it resonate within him He did this in more than one language – internalizing words, ruminating, bending them to his will, and finally assigning them to a fate of his choosing, over the years. Remarkably several Prefaces by French Naturalist novelists such as Zola, De Goncourts or Maupassant (today considered genuine manifestos) were among the pages that truly challenged and engaged his mind. In them he found the freedom that he was seeking in painting – the ‘confirmation’ of his own ideas, inspiration and encouragement. The work of the illustrators of his favorite books and magazines equally attracted him and had a lingering effect on him, on which he paused to reflect repeatedly, extracting inspiration indirectly.
Mariella Guzzoni in Vincent’s Books: Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him
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