TOEFL Listening Practice: Lecture16
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- A, D
|So, continuing in our series of important artists, ones who have really shaped and influenced art today, we’re going to look at Van Gough – Vincent Willem van Gogh, who was born in 1853 and who died in 1890, at only the age of 37.
Van Gogh began to draw as a child, and although he drew throughout his youth, he did not use the medium of paint until his late twenties. Actually he originally intended to become a pastor, and even worked as a missionary in a mining region of Belgium. It was here where he began to sketch members of the local community, and you can see on the slide here, one of his first major works, the Potato Eaters. You can see that his palette is very somber… lots of earth tones. There’s none of that vivid coloration that you see in his later work. Really, not what you’d expect from Van Gogh at all.
Something occurred to make Vincent change his mind regarding where he saw his true path in life, and he headed to Paris in 1886 to work for an art dealership. And it makes you wonder what, if anything really, Van Gogh would have contributed to the art world had he not given up on the devout, spiritual path, because it wasn’t until he came to Paris that he developed his distinctive style. That said, it seems that he was greatly influenced by the strong sunlight there, because, as I mentioned before, his work got distinctly more vibrant and flamboyant in that respect. Two years later, he stayed in Arles, and it was after that when he developed his highly recognizable style and created his famous works, like ‘Sunflowers’ and his self-portrait.
Now Van Gogh did suffer considerably from mental health issues, and art critics love to speculate how his mental health affected his work, and there’s been a tendency over the years to…well.. romanticize this, by which I mean that it has been proposed that his illness was a considerable – creative force, which is not very sympathetic, given the struggles Van Gogh must have gone through to cope with it. And other critics see him as this frustrated character, whose illness brought on bouts of inactivity that prevented him from…well..concentrating on his art, but this doesn’t quite hang together in my mind, given his copious productivity during his later years. That said, there is a general agreement among art historians, however, that Van Gogh went beyond the superficial, discovering essential truths, and this seems to echo what was going on in the psychological world at the time, because while Van Gogh was painting what lay beneath the surface, Freud was mining the depths of the subconscious.
Shortly before his death, Van Gogh wrote a letter to an acquaintance saying that, being childless, he viewed his paintings as his progeny. And indeed, you might say that Van Gogh had a great many heirs, as a great many artists have adapted elements of Van Gogh’s style into their own artwork – like Willem de Kooning, Howard Hodgkin and Jackson Pollock to name but a few. So even though he was a little-known artist when he died at the age of 37 from a gunshot wound, which sadly may well have been self-inflicted, Vincent Van Gogh is truly a painter who has stood the test of time.