Art Review: Van Gogh’s Bedrooms

Dean with a Van Gogh

Today, Jerry and I saw Van Gogh’s Bedrooms, one of the current exhibits at The Art Institute Chicago. The centerpiece of the exhibit is, of course, the trio of paintings Van Gogh made to document his bedroom in Arles. The curator has brought together 33 other works by the artist, many of them relating to houses and objects you would find in them. The painting in the photo above depicts an “asylum” in Saint-Rémy where Van Gogh spent some time.

I am inspired by the bold weirdness of Van Gogh’s paintings. His work makes me want to let go of some of the compromising I do to make my aesthetic more accessible. In spite of some minor stylistic tweaking and experimentation, Van Gogh’s singular vision remained remarkably consistent throughout his career, much more so than, say, the vision of Pablo Picasso, which was always grasping for the next big transformation. Van Gogh had specific goals in mind, and he kept working at them over and over.

On the other hand, I am also depressed when I see Van Gogh’s paintings, because I start to think about the contrast between his posthumous fame and the total rejection he experienced during his life. We take it for granted that he was a genius, and we present his work in showcase exhibitions like this one, but almost no one appreciated what he was doing in his day.

I get angry about the fact that people other than Van Gogh have made a lot of money off of his work. It is awfully convenient to be able to bypass the artist in all those million-dollar transactions. At least part of that success is due to the romanticization of Van Gogh’s suffering, which calls into question the morality of the profiteers.