[Outlook]Beauty in the struggleWhen I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam after an absence of 12 years, it was just as packed as I remembered it even though it was a weekday.
No other gallery in the world dedicated to a single artist is neither as big nor houses such an enormous collection.
Clearly, the artist’s name has become a cultural phenomenon.
Korea and its neighbor Japan are particularly fond of the Dutch painter. The Japanese probably admire van Gogh because they are proud that he was influenced by Japanese wooden prints, which are known as ukiyoye. But why do we Koreans also admire him so much?
Van Gogh had an unprivileged and isolated life. He struggled to improve his lot but the world around him pushed him aside without mercy.
He lived a lonely life throughout his 37 years and he painted for less than 10 years. Before he devoted himself to painting, he worked as a clerk for art dealers.
What’s more, he loved his landlady’s daughter who was engaged to someone else. His unrequited love is said to have broken his heart.
He tried to become a missionary like his father but this move didn’t turn out well, either, and so he took up painting.
We are fascinated by him and his paintings probably because he went through the kinds of difficulties that many people can relate to and empathize with.
On my visit to the museum in Amsterdam, I found myself crying when I looked at the paintings that van Gogh produced shortly before he killed himself on July 27, 1890. It was impossible to stop the tears from running down my cheeks.
I didn’t pity him. That’s not why I was crying. It was because he was struggling so hard even when he had been pushed to the edge. Clearly, his had been a desperate battle.
Van Gogh didn’t receive the recognition that he deserved during his lifetime. In fact, his paintings were treated so badly that they were not only cheap but one was even used as a door to a henhouse. Another was used as a board for shooting exercise.
But afterwards his paintings were recognized for their incredible power to move people and touch their souls.
It’s comforting to think that countless art lovers have either visited recently or will visit the museum in Amsterdam soon, proof that his reputation is as strong as ever.
The Kroller-Muller Museum, the Netherlands’ national museum, has the second biggest collection of van Gogh’s paintings in the world, after the Van Gogh Museum. It takes an hour and a half to get there by train from Amsterdam and then 20 minutes more by bus. You then have to take a 15-minute bike ride through the National Park De Hoge Veluwe, dubbed “van Gogh’s woods.”
This remote setting is a perfect location to view van Gogh’s work, a wooded area that is as melancholic as it is beautiful.
I looked at the painting called “Road with Cypress and Star,” and the path in the village lit by moonlight and the stars filled my heart.
I left the national museum and biked though van Gogh’s woods into the setting sun for more than an hour. It was a moving moment, one that I would probably never experience again.
As I cycled in the fading light, I thought about life and how we are all pushed aside at some point in our lives by life and the world around us.
At times, life becomes so tough that, as for van Gogh, ending one’s life is more than a possibility. But we should try never to forget that life in the truest sense begins at the moment we are pushed to the edge, the moment when we have to struggle not to fall.
Van Gogh stood on the edge of life and captured all his fears and anxieties in his paintings. He was at his most alive when he teetered on the brink, and we have to acknowledge that our lives can start anew when life seems so hard.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong