I’m reading the letters of Vincent Van Gogh (Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait, edited by W. H. Auden, 1963) and he has so many beautiful and encouraging things to say about art, including literature. Here’s a quote I love from a letter to his brother Theo in June of 1879:
I still can find no better definition of the word art than this . . . ‘art is man added to nature’ — nature, reality, truth, but with a significance, a conception, a character, which the artist brings out in it, and to which he gives expression . . . which he disentangles, sets free and interprets. A picture by Mauve or Maris or Israels says more, and says it more clearly, than nature herself.
I love this because I’ve always thought that, as beautiful, powerful, and ingenious as nature is, it’s almost equaled by humanity. Yeah, I know, people seem to do nothing but destroy this world and each other. We’re powerful and ingenious too, to bad ends. But on the other hand, we too have produced works of beauty and ingenuity for eons. And we’re the only animals who are capable of all this love and rapture over nature, all this striving to understand and “give expression to” nature and our fellow humans. Without us, who would appreciate the wonders of nature?
I’ve only been getting really familiar with Van Gogh’s work for the last ten years or so, but I must have known enough of him to have unconsciously emulated him when I drew this tree in the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, way back in 1990.
On the other hand, this painting was an outright copy I did for practice last year. It definitely was good practice for fighting the urge to do too much detail.