The causes of popularity
Robert Genn June 4, 2010 Dear Rodney,At dinner last night the textile artist Carole Sabiston posed a question to our party: "How do you account for the remarkable popularity and love for the work among average people of someone like Vincent van Gogh?" Her question was accompanied by her usual wink, as if there might be a reason not to love Vincent's paintings. We all blurted our off-the-top-of-the-head answers. After my wine-enriched blurt, I took her question to bed. More considered pillow punching spun some reasons why the work of any of us might become popular and loved: A unique and recognizable style: In Vincent's case, thickly applied pure pigment was laid brick-like with a compulsive sincerity. His style, at first the butt of jokes and swift elimination from juried shows, stood out for its amateur crudeness and naiveté. After all the polished works of the Salon, Vincent's efforts couldn't be missed. In his novelty, Vincent was one of the artists to herald "the cult of the new." A range of subject matter within a style: Landscapes, florals, boats, dreams, visions, struggle, appreciation of nature and narrative angst. Something for everyone. An epic life story: Innocently, and by default, Vincent pioneered the benefits of poverty, failure, suffering and mental illness. Disorder, in the psychology of the new enlightenment, was now acceptable and could be packaged and sold. Vincent's life had filmic potential. The presence of "early adopters": A band of contrarian dealers and critics who promoted Vincent to a new breed of entrepreneurial collector--those who would go on to found great collections and public museums. Vincent's work crossed the pond. An early death ensuring a finite opus: It's good for a young artist to die. A small, interrupted supply of art insures rarity, dealer control and the potential for recognizable prints, posters, books, potholders, key-chains and mugs. Vincent was granted the sort of familiarity average people can get their heads around. Best regards, Robert PS: "I do not know myself how I paint it. I sit down with a white board before the spot that strikes me. I look at what is before my eyes, and say to myself, that white board must become something." (Vincent van Gogh) Esoterica: A Mugg's Jury. Imagine, if you will, a juried art show held in Muggsville, Saskatchewan, where a few of Vincent's middling (not the worst and not the best) originals were included. And imagine that not one of the Muggsville jurors had ever heard of Vincent or knew what his work looked like. Difficult, I know, in the age of mass media, unless you happen to be a recently landed Martian. Do you think Vincent's work would get into the Muggsville Salon? What do you think jurors might say? "Crude?" "Try again next year?" Do you think young Vincent might just pick up a few blue ribbons?