I don’t know much about art. I think I might have taken a History of Art class in college, but honestly I have no idea. I know a lot of artists, my husband being one of my favorites. And being married to an artist, I have heard all of the possible angles around “What is art?” ad nauseam. This is not about that. I don’t know what art is. I don’t really care what you think is art versus what I think is art versus what Michelangelo would have defined as art. But if you do wish to chat about that, I can point you in the direction of several people who love to have that chat regularly.
Here is where my life and art recently intersected: I read an article online. I like to tell people it was in The New York Times or Time Magazine so they think I am well read and interesting and impressive to talk with, but while it may have been in one of those periodicals, I most likely read it from some sort of click bait while scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. Sorry to disappoint you but I do have quite a vapid curiosity for which Grey’s Anatomy characters were supposed to end up together.
But on this occasion the clickbait lead me to a recent theory about Vincent Van Gogh, the famous and tortured post-impressionist artist (thank you, Wikipedia) who blessed the Western art world of his time and ours with some truly incredible pieces. He created true art, even the thorniest of artists would admit. This article suggested recent evidence had to come light that Van Gogh might have suffered from an extremely rare condition of the eye. The condition, which is believed to impact only 1% of the world’s population, causes the afflicted to have issues with depth perception. It causes part of the eye to only see in 2D, rather than the three dimensional world the rest of the population lives in. This never significantly impairs the viewer because the rest of the eye functions normally. But it does allow for that 1% to see the world differently if they choose to. And in the case of Vincent Van Gogh, to paint the world around him differently.
Now, obviously so many great metaphors come to mind from this discovery, chief of which being that sometimes our weaknesses lead to our greatest accomplishments. And that is truly worthy of pondering upon for a few moments of your day. But here is where my mind went when I read this new development around Van Gogh: He didn’t set out to become one of the world’s greatest artists because he had this particular ailment. In fact, medical researchers aren’t even sure he was aware of it entirely. No. He painted the infamous “Starry Night” and “Sunflowers” because that is how he saw the world. He was painting his reality. And it made me wonder, how long it took him to realize that his reality was special, that it wasn’t the reality that the rest of us saw? Perhaps Van Gogh knew his talent was special from the moment he picked up a paintbrush, but I wonder if maybe it took him a little while to realize he wasn’t seeing what the rest of the world saw. And I wonder when he did have that realization, if he immediately viewed it as special or a liability?
I’ve come up against this oddity a few times in my own life. In fact, I bump up against it in what I write here all the time. If you only knew the amount of posts here you have read that I am convinced are so stupidly benign and mundane, only to be told later by someone who is kind enough to encourage me how they had never thought of that topic in that way or held that object up and to see what I had seen.
I like systems and procedures and checklists and they come easily and naturally to me. It is always astounding to me when I speak to a small business owner or startup and make what I think is an obvious suggestion only to have them light up inside and say “Eureka! Yes! That is exactly what I was missing! How did you know?” I know because I see the world a little differently than they do in that one circumstance.
Recently Greg told me a thought he had regarding when Jesus turned the water to wine. And I wish I could do it justice but he beautifully wondered if what seemed to take a miraculous mere moment here on Earth was actually years and years in the making up in heaven. He wondered how time shifts from heaven to Earth. And I was blown away. I had never thought of that before. I had never turned that object over and seen that particular light hit it in that one way and painted a totally different picture. But Greg had. And he was a little sheepishly puzzled as to why I had never thought of it in that way. It seemed so obvious to him.
We all have a Van Gogh side. We all have a talent or a gift that we think is bestowed upon everyone, but here’s the deal: I promise you, it’s not. It is uniquely yours. And it may not make you tons of money, ever bring you ridiculous fame or be much more to you than a parlor trick, but I hope you hear me say, it is significant. You are unique and you see the world uniquely. And when we add our unique perspective to the conversation, to the table, to the office, we are weaving a beautiful tapestry of humanity.
What if Van Gogh had decided because his art was different or had never been done before that it was wrong or worthless? What if, when he discovered his world looked a little different, he had kept it a secret or even worse, been ashamed of it? The world would have been deprived of some profound beauty. The art world would have lost a brilliant edge. The same thing happens when we hide our own uniqueness. We deprive those around us of seeing the beautiful art we create.
The Van Gogh of it all is you were created to bring your voice to the choir. You are the only one who sees the world exactly like you. Pick up a brush and let us watch you paint.