How moving Alan Yentob’s part dramatised documentary was on Van Gogh last night. A man whose spirit got so mangled in the machine, driven back into poverty, touching madness, yet who, after his suicide, achieved recognition, sales and values in their tens of millions, to hang on the walls of corporations and banks. Like Keat’s journey too, after he had been hammered by critics for Endymion. Van Gogh foresaw the irony of it himself, as we all see how much money and not the spirit is the real driver in the contemporary world, most especially perhaps in the art world. Perhaps it was ever thus. The artist’s grail is to keep telling ‘the truth’, their truth and meaning, in the face of it all, in the hope not only that their art can become visionary, but that those who think they are alone hear that they are not so alone after all. Van Gogh’s most vital relationship was with his brother Theo, who died just six months later, from syphilis, and was buried next to him. Truly heartbreaking, and yet that struggle for light, for love, even for some immortal truth is what survives, to re-inspire again and again. It was WH Auden who wrote that “all that survives of us is love.” Perhaps we should listen to artist’s voices far more closely and respect them far more too. Shelley wrote perhaps the most triumphant tribute to any artist’s really burning spirit in Adonais, in his tribute to Keats, and it might serve for Van Gogh too:
“He has outsoared the shadow of out night,
Envy, and calumny, and hate and pain
And that unrest which men miscall delight
Can touch him not, and torture not again.
From the contagion of the worlds slow stain
He is secure, and never more can mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown grey in vain.
And when the Spirit’s Self has ceased to burn
With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn.”