The In-Betweens

“The Sower Outskirts of Arles in the Background” by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen

As life and health situations twist and turn for an inordinate number of people in my life lately, and we endure the tests and wait for the consults, I’ve been thinking of this Van Gogh painting.

I stumbled upon it at the latest — and most captivating — exhibition at the Detroit Institude of Arts a couple months ago. At the time, it wasn’t the piece that elicited the strongest response from the depths of my soul, but its imagery has lingered, and the story behind it has earned its way into today’s ponderings.

Van Gogh spent a lot of time on the sower theme, was potentially somewhat obsessed with it. By all accounts, he painted more than 30 paintings with the sower as the central figure. It’s not hard to see how this might come from both his Christian faith and its many references to reaping what you sow, and this particular time in his life.

By “particular time of life”, I mean that he was near the end of his story.

Within 2 years of this painting spree, he would be gone.

Vincent’s health was significantly challenged — both physically and mentally. In addition to his psychotic episodes, it’s said that he likely suffered from epileptic seizures and that possibly these two conditions were linked. He had such frequent attacks and felt so out of control of himself that he eventually checked himself into an institution, where he wasn’t able to even venture outdoors without someone joining him.

Yet he painted on, when he could. He couldn’t paint during his attacks, and at the institution he wasn’t allowed to paint while they were going on — therefore much of the work he did during this period was when he was starting to feel an episode come on, or in the calmer spaces between.

Painting was, as they say, his one true thing.

Or as he put it: “One must undertake with confidence, with a certain assurance that one is doing a reasonable thing, like the farmer who drives his plow… (one who) drags the harrow behind himself. If one hasn’t a horse, one is one’s own horse.”

I’m not a painter, but I feel like I understand exactly what he was talking about.

Shot on Pixel 6 Pro.

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