Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Artist Bets His Life

The January 4th issue of The New Yorker has a really interesting story about Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and what may or may not have really happened on the Christmas Eve in 1888 before a prostitute named Rachel unwrapped a gift that turned out to be Van Gogh's ear.

(God, can you imagine? "Merry Christmas, baby. I got ear. Do you like it?")

I'll admit, sometimes when I get to the end of a New Yorker article, I pretty much just feel glad I stuck it out and read the entire thing. (Sometimes, only sometimes, really.) But I got to the final graph in this article and just thought, Damn. That's beautiful. And then I read it again. And then for some reason I picked up my pen and circled the paragraph. I don't really know why.

Here it is:

"It's true that the moral luck dramatized by modern art involves an uncomfortable element of ethical exhibitionism. We gawk and stare as the painters slice off their ears and down the booze and act like clowns. But we rely on them to make up for our timidity, on their courage to dignify our caution. We are spectators in the casino, placing bets; that's the nature of the collaboration that brings us together, and we can sometimes convince ourselves that having looked is the same as having made, and that the stakes are the same for the ironic spectator and the would-be saint. But they're not. We all make our wagers, and the cumulative lottery builds museums and lecture halls and revisionist biographies. But the artist does more. He bets his life."

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