Sunday, January 1, 2012

Portrait of Dr. Gachet

It is with some regret that I, *Dr. Chad Wingerd, pronounce 2011 dead.  At approximately 12:59pm, GMT, on December 31, 2011 exhaled for the last time.  By its side were 2012, Al Gore, the "Hide yo kids, hide yo wife" guy, #Occupy Everything, NYPD officers, and a large pool of representatives from CNN.  2011 leaves behind two siblings--2009 and 2010, who are both still clinging to life-support--and no worldly possessions.  In a fit of struggle before succumbing to death's grip, 2011 was quoted as saying, "It was my intention to be a great year until I took an arrow to the knee."  The "arrow" is to be held at auction to benefit the Lawyers for Solyndra Foundation.

Battered, bruised, and about as ugly as a year can get, 2011 is behind us now.  The 365 days endured were riddled with pointless unrest, severe partisanship, dirty politics, international uprisings giving way to even more uprisings, wild and uncontrolled spending on an international level, and a whole lot of promises that were not fulfilled.  In fact, in my 39 years, I don't think I can recall a uglier year for both the United States and for many other nations.  Oh yes, there were certainly high notes peppered throughout the year and there are some who may argue there have been worse, but frankly speaking, the amount of despair and failure far out-shadows those wonderful things that were only given fleeting moments of glory.

Despite all the negativity and lunacy (for lack of a better way to put it), folks have been rather resilient and hopeful.  In just the past 24 hours, I've seen numerous mentions from a wide variety of people proclaiming their determination to see 2012 become a much better year for them.  It's as if we've all had to sit through and endure a sluggish, sickly year while we waited as a potential remedy worked its course through 2011's veins.

To put it bluntly, thank God it's over!

Oddly enough, though, and putting aside all the negativity and silliness, Earthlings have been rather patient through it all.  Lovingly staring back at better days whilest attentively gazing upon 2011's demise as it slowly unraveled, most folks did their best to keep their cool and give an unprecedented amount of focus on seeing it through and hoping for improvement.  Now that 2011 is officially over, these same people have all breathed a sigh of relief and are now turning their focus towards the philosophy of what goes down, must go up.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet, by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), is a tenderly painted expression of van Gogh's appreciation for the doctor who personally cared for him during his mid-30s and through a difficult period of illness.  It is documented that van Gogh's first impressions of Dr. Paul Gachet were not too kind but within a matter of weeks, he was able to establish a new friendship and see beyond the reported consistent melancholy expression that persisted on the good doctor's face to see the genuine, caring man he was.

In classic van Gogh style, the doctor is portrayed at rest on his table, seemingly watching over the artist as he recovered, resting his head upon his right hand, medical books and a sprig of foxglove at the ready, against a dream-like backdrop of mountains.  Many scholars would agree, however, that the focal point of this piece is the doctor's face which van Gogh wrote about to his brother Theo:
I've done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it... Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done... There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.
Dr. Gachet was renowned for his care of other artists and was recommended to van Gogh after he spent about a year at the Saint-Paul Asylum.  The painter was beginning to long for the North of France and to be closer to his brother so he rented a room in the doctor's home.  Van Gogh's struggle with inner-demons and illness were well known.  He, of course, was given some infamy for severing his own ear after a depressing fight with friend and fellow painter, Gauguin.  Though the specificity of what truly ailed van Gogh is still not fully known, it's no mystery that he battled with--at the very least--a mental condition that is believed to have been the culprit for his apparent suicide at the age of 37.

I think it is safe to suggest that Van Gogh was obsessive with his work and with his life.  Throughout his struggles both physically and mentally, van Gogh battled his own insecurities while eagerly pursuing his love of painting.  During his life, he painted over three dozen self portraits many of which seem to exhibit him as elderly, even slovenly.  Yet he is best known for his landscapes that still today, dazzle the eye with their brilliance and peacefulness.  But what really mattered to him was to paint portraits.  In his own words:

I should like to paint portraits which appear after a century to people living then as apparitions. By which I mean that I do not endeavor to achieve this through photographic resemblance, but my means of our impassioned emotions—that is to say using our knowledge and our modern taste for color as a means of arriving at the expression and the intensification of the character.
I suppose it is a bit ironic that this particular piece is one of the most expensive paintings in the world.  Rightfully so, though, as it is extremely unique and blends landscape styles that van Gogh normally did not use in other portraits.  But why the correlation of van Gogh to 2011?  Because both needed to be let go.

2011 struggled obsessively with far too many moments that have left far too many people negatively impacted.  Van Gogh, however, was a detriment to only himself and after studying his life in some detail, I've come to understand that his death was his greatest relief.  Both looking back on this year and in imagining van Gogh's life, I envision a feverish flurry of efforts being strewn about hoping to latch onto something meaningful.  In fact, while 2011 was heartbreaking in many aspects and through all the loss suffered by hundreds of thousands of people, van Gogh's struggles nearly bring me to tears.

Someone so special to the world of art doesn't deserve to have suffered as he did.  What could have been for van Gogh is next to impossible to imagine but certainly piques my curiosity.  What if he had a normal existence void of crippling ailments?  Yet am I to suggest that his art would have been better?  Indeed, it seems that the things van Gogh suffered through enhanced the work he produced.  For that, we are all better off and I count it as sacrifice for the greater good.  Much the same, 2011 was miserable to live through yet I'm seeing how it has solidified many, taught us where to tread more carefully, and dropped us all on the doorstep of a new year that could be the beginning of much needed improvement.

Happy New Year, everyone!

*Not really a doctor.  Not legally capable of pronouncing death.  Not responsible for you buying the semi-entertaining narrative.

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