Since in my post on Seurat I quoted Rilke’s “cell of my art” statement, I figured I might as well post one of my favorite all time comparison lessons on that style “commandment.” Above are two well known paintings by Van Gogh. One is painted by the artist we know Van Gogh becomes and one is painted before Van Gogh fully realized that transformation. I think the chief difference between these two paintings is how each painting relates to itself. The difference between these two painting styles is in the relation between what the painting conveys and how it is rendered. In the first, the smoking skull image, an idea of something is conveyed, however vaguely, without regard to how it is rendered. The idea is communicated then we notice how it is communicated, the calligraphy in which it is written. In the second one, the sunflower,what the painting conveys is conveyed through how it is rendered. It contains no abstractable message by which we can paraphrase it and do without the painting. The painting is all. I like to think that both paintings have the same thing to say. They are both Van Gogh expressing something, but only in the second painting is the artist mature enough to say what he means.
January 28, 2011