Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Did Van Gogh Commit Suicide?

Until now, most of the world simply presumed that he did, but that presumption is being questioned in a new book alleging that he was accidentally shot and killed either by the teenage brother of one of his friends, who enjoyed tormenting the mentally ill artist, or by a couple of local kids who were playing with a malfunctioning pistol. The Pulitzer Prize-winning duo of Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith make this claim in their new book, Van Gogh: The Life (Random House 2011). Perhaps they should have called it Van Gogh: The Death for all the attention being paid to the issue of his demise, as if it has any bearing on the artist's life, his art, or his reputation. Jonathan Jones, at his On Art Blog for The Guardian.com (here) raises questions about the new claims and argues that, ultimately, it just doesn't matter whether Van Gogh offed himself. Even if he didn't kill himself, he wanted to, and for Jones that is what counts. I'm not so sure. I mean, just because a guy cuts off his own ear, why should that lead anyone to believe he'd have suicidal tendencies. This brave new book by Naifeh and White Smith casts grave doubt on the entire "Van Gogh Suicide Industry," which would have us believe that the man was a great artist because he committed suicide. The only thing that is clear now is that, if Van Gogh did not kill himself, he can no longer be considered a great artist.

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