Consolatory Art for Distressed Hearts

“Consolatory Art for Distressed Hearts” is a phrase van Gogh used to describe his work. I came across it in this most excellent review, here:

The phrase takes the slight shame I have in making frivolously pretty paintings and reconciles it with my own enjoyment of making and looking at frivolously pretty paintings. Sometimes just looking at beauty makes us feel better.

The opening phrase caught my attention:

“Just as there are writers’ writers, so there are painters’ painters: necessary exemplars, moral guides, embodiers of the art. Often they are quiet artists, who lack a shouty biography, who go about their work with modest pertinacity, believing the art greater than the artist. …”

And it goes on. It’s a long article. The best, most poignant paragraph (for me at least) is the closing one:

“What pleases the PUBLIC is always what’s most banal,’ he wrote to his brother in 1883. But nowadays Van Gogh pleases the public enormously. So has he become banal? Could our difficulty in being able to see him properly be a sign that there is only so much looking to be had, and/or that with age we grow out of him? Oddly, no. He isn’t one of those painters – like, say, Degas or Monet – who, over the decades, refine and deepen our vision. I am not sure that Van Gogh’s paintings change for us very much over the years, that we see him differently, find more in him, at sixty or seventy than we did at twenty. Rather, it is the case that the painter’s desperate sincerity, his audacious, resplendent colour and his intense desire to make painting ‘a consolatory art for distressed hearts’ take us back to being twenty again. And that is no bad place to be. “

Nope. Surely it isn’t.

I worry about being banal. My own favorite pieces are never the ones that get lots of favorites and likes and reblogs or tweets or whatnot on social media, at least as not as much as the pretty ones do.

Maybe social media isn’t the best measure of meaningfulness, but I suspect it’s an accurate determiner of “distressed hearts.”