Just Your Average Mental Breakdown: Olive Trees

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Just Your Average Mental Breakdown
Artists Losing It
Curated by Drew Bierwirth

Vincent Van Gogh, Olive Trees, 1889

The final piece. Van Gogh's paintings in his later life are some of my favorite paintings of all. This period of his life, though dark, was also his most creative. By 1888, the year before the creation of this piece, Van Gogh's panic attacks and epileptic fits grew in frequency, one of which led to him chasing Gauguin around with a knife and threatening his life. Later that day he cut his ear off and gave it to a prostitute. After these fits became too intense and far too frequent, Van Gogh committed himself to an asylum.

In this asylum, he got in touch with the more intense, darker elements of his art . He couldn't paint or draw for long periods of time without having an attack, but those pieces he did complete were very different from the ones of the past. His work became darker, this piece in particular showing the type of place his mind was. The trees blend seamlessly with the rolling hills, the movement and chaos of the piece unmistakably Van Gogh, but something is different. His style is shaky, the movement turbulent, and this new technique was visible in all of his work while in the asylum, especially in Starry Night - which remains his most popular work.

Van Gogh's popular works aren't the things that enchant me, though. He is absolutely part of his canvas, painting his emotions just as deftly as he paints these trees. Through, and possibly because of, all he endured, his art wasn't just a talent or a calling. It became an outlet to work things out on, to share with the world. He was so critical on himself, trying to end his life because he felt he had failed in his art and was never good enough. There are always tortured artists, but Van Gogh holds a special place in my heart for never feeling his work, in a caliber of its own, was never quite good enough - even though he became legendary to everyone else. That takes a special kind of person, and an even more special kind of person, to be strong enough to put these painful, vulnerable thoughts on a canvas and make them into something so beautiful.

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