The First Selfie

Vincent Van Gogh is an extraordinary artist, from the Impressionist period, he is best known for his paintings in the 1880’s and 90’s. Van Gogh was famous for creating emotions in his works, and had the ability to make someone feel something with just one stroke of the brush. He could evoke emotion even from the most emotionless soul.

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“”Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90), the definitive modern artist in that his life and work broke with traditional social bonds. “”Almost invariably, van Gogh drew and painted from nature. The influence of his exceptional emotional and spiritual intensity on his art is most evident when van Gogh deviated from the depiction of natural scenes, particularly in the rendering of the sky, in several of his masterpieces”” (Dietrich Blumer). In every brushstroke he seemed to express an isolated, alienated vision – the vision of, the man suicided by society”” (Jones). Van Gogh used color and lines to tell a story and he made the canvas come alive. In his famous painting “”Self- Portrait with Bandaged Ear””, he clearly is representing himself after he cut off his ear. To understand the expressive lines and the use of colors in the painting we must first understand Van Gogh’s life leading up to and after the self-portrait.

Van Gogh is a troubled artist and you can easily see that through his paintings. “”At the age of 16, Vincent began to work as an apprentice for an art dealer in a firm founded by an uncle. After 4 years near his family in The Hague, he was transferred to London, where he stayed for 2 years. During that time, he suffered a severe disappointment in his first amorous infatuation and became deeply depressed”” (Dietrich Blumer). These were some of the first instances that fed into Gogh’s depression. Between 1886 and 1888 Gogh had dozens of self-portraits all very similar. In every painting he was mysterious looking, frowning, but he still paints with the dancing lines. Van Gogh painted the original “”Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat”” in 1887. He uses Neo-impressionist techniques in this piece and uses color according to the color theory. This painting is important because we have a clear representation of Van Gogh’s appearance pre the ear cutting drama. Just like in his other paintings Van Gogh uses his techniques to make swirled lines, to add expression to his works. His famous swirled lines are what made his paintings feel like they’re alive and moving. In the self-portrait Gogh depicts himself as a mysterious individual. You cannot look at Van Gogh and think he looks happy; its obvious he wanted people to see him as an unhappy person, because that’s what he painted. If he wanted everyone to think he was happy he would have painted a smile. Gogh is staring back at you, with anguish in his eyes, he is sad inside. Why would he want others to know he were sad? Don’t we paint things as we see or imagine them to be? Yes, Van Gogh knew he was depressed, he saw himself as sad; this is how we know he was dealing mental illness years before he even went into an asylum, before he eats yellow paint, and before he cuts off his ear. This is important because many believe the self-portraits are a calling for help. Vincent had been dealing with demons inside for years before even publicly displaying it with his actions.

The story really gets good when Van Gogh cuts his ear off. The night of the incident, a woman told police she had encountered a man whom had handed her his ear and asked her to guard it with her life. “”Whatever underlying motivations could have compelled van Gogh to do it, the episode effectively put an end to one of the most famous working relationships in the history of art, as Paul Gauguin boarded the train to Paris the next day (Pollitt). After the loss of his ear and longtime colleague he paints ‘Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear”” after returning home from the hospital (Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear). Just like in the first self- portrait he represents himself in a melancholy fashion, although by adding the color green into his eyes with this painting it gives me an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Gogh often used color to represent an emotion in his paintings, adding an even more somber effect to the second portrait. He gives off a post-impressionist vibe, by adding optical effects of color dominance in aesthetic ways. Gogh adds value at the bottom of the blue doors the make the foreground stand out, he stipples his strokes on his hat to give off a three-dimensional effect. This shows Vincent van Gogh previous vast knowledge behind the meaning of art.

“”This is a very controlled painting, although the clashing colors used in the face seem to suggest turmoil”” (Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear). The painting shows Vincent van Gogh’s paints himself at a half profile angle, this give us a better view of his mutilated ear. Van Gogh paints in cubism, giving a larger perspective, allowing us to collect more information about this event. “”He takes a quiet and detached look at himself and expresses a feeling of renewed hope through his bright colors and simplified drawing”” (Vincent Van Gogh Self-Portraits). He is standing in front of a lime green wall with another painting and blank canvas in the background of his studio. “”The dark earthy tones, which are characteristic of traditional Dutch painting, are used to create an image of humble dignity”” (Vincent Van Gogh – Self Portraits). This is a mirrored image of what he looked like; in the painting it’s his right ear that is bandaged, but he actually cut off a piece of his left ear. In the painting Van Gogh uses short, jagged strokes of the brush to give a texture effect on the piece, almost like he is intentionally leaving space in between his lines. It is one of his more depressive “”selfie’s, his line works is even a little more boring than usual. He uses harsh dark outlining and fills it in with color. He does not use the expressive swirled lines he so famously brought up, this could be a sign that his manic episodes were becoming more frequent. In this piece he doesn’t display much use of the color theory because he’s mixing light greens of the wall with the darn greens and yellows on his body. The wall behind him makes him look flushed, he doesn’t standout. What does pop in the painting is the Oriental painting in the background. Gogh painted this simply because he was influenced by that culture and artists of that time, and because he was filling space with the Japanese art he so loved. Was this Gogh’s way of accentuating the things that made him happy?

“”He has become this walking emblem of what it is to live the life of art”” (Jones). A few days after the painting, Van Gogh admitted himself into a mental asylum, after a petition had been signed by dozens of townspeople and acquaintances that “”he was a danger to himself and others”” (Biography). “”He tended to be untidy and quarrelsome; his irascible temper caused many unpleasant scenes and rendered him an undesirable in a number of places””(Dietrich Blumer). Little was known about mental illness in this time, the subject has not been taken seriously until recent years. Nevertheless, Vincent van Gogh is believed to have dealt with bipolar disorder, where he would have manic mood swings, varying from very high levels of dopamine and serotonin to super low levels. You even can see his moods changing in his artwork. In “”Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear”” you can tell he spent time with his work, slowly painting on object onto the next. He paints himself in the foreground, as stated before, he’s a melancholy subject. Aside from that, in the background it is to be noticed that the artist adds shading to the canvas behind his left shoulder. To a trained eye it may even look like the outline of a face. Even so, the face or figure looks smiling or at least happier than his own face. On the other side the Japanese poster shows two women, relax and content, fanning themselves. From the information we can differ that Gogh had the sense of different emotions and he choose to paint others happier than himself.

Gogh stays in the asylum for a little of a year spending time recovering and working on his art. In time he paints some of his most famous works like “”Irises”” and “”Starry Night””. After leaving he stays under the care from Dr. Paul Gachet (Biography). Despite all of these events and people trying to help the sick artist could not recover. In July of 1890, two months after leaving the asylum Van Gogh gave into his mental illness with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He would leave behind parents, siblings, friends, and a legacy. A legacy that would become so famous and controversial that his own mother would destroy and burn many of his paintings. Today only a few of his original pieces stand on display and most are just copies. Effortlessly giving more value to his genuine art pieces.

I picked this art piece because it spoke to me. I have an overwhelming sadness when looking at it, as if I knew him myself. I believe it is so beautiful that he could paint how he felt to leave behind a legacy for art appreciators to know him by.

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