I was, once again, shamelessly eavesdropping.
It’s what I do.
We were in Amsterdam’s spectacular Van Gogh Museum (Van Gogh is not pronounced Van Go. Uh uh…it’s pronounced more like ‘cough’ but say the word like you’re clearing your throat for one of those terrible winter commercials that like to gross me out with the words ‘phlegm’ and ‘mucous’).
I was immersed in another incredible painting…stunned by all the Van Gogh’s I’d never seen before. I was pondering all that I’d read and been reminded of:
- What must it have been like for Vincent to have been supported by his brother Theo for his entire life?
- What was it like, in spite of his spectacular output, for him to never realize his dream of living from his art?
- What was it like to be twisted and tormented by such huge depression?
- What was it like to spend a year in a French asylum?
- Or to fight with Gauguin, the one artist-friend who came to visit and stay with him, in his dream of creating an artists’ retreat?
- To cut off his own ear (or as some theories suggest, have it cut off by Gauguin in a bloody altercation?
- To finally commit suicide (or to have been murdered? No gun was ever found at the scene??) at the age of 37.
The man behind me was speaking in that confidential tone reserved for the best type of secrets, the kind of voice that always grabs me and cues me to listen harder.
“I think,” he said, “that if one is going to do something great in life…”
I took a step back, and then oh-so-casually shuffled closer, studiously pretending that I needed to get closer to examine the thick brush strokes of the painting in front of us.
He cleared his throat. I stole a sideways glance. They were Japanese men, both with greying temples, one wore glasses. Their clothes were conservative, tailored, expensive. I turned away before one of them began speaking again.
He started again. “Yes,” he said, “I think if one is going to do something great, they cannot live a normal life.
They moved on. I stood there, mulling his words. Judging by the volume of people swarming around me, there was no doubt that Van Gogh is known as a great artist.
But did he have a great life?