My high school art club attended an exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh’s work at the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco in the early 1970s. I was particularly moved by the chronology of his paintings – the transformation of his style from a dark, reserved focus on finer detail toward the bolder, brighter, thicker brush strokes of impressionism in his later works. Sadly, he sold only one painting during his short, troubled lifetime.
Recently, I received an invitation to attend an “immersive” Van Gogh exhibit in San Francisco. This 40-minute projected animation of his still images (with a caution to viewers who have photosensitivity), previously toured in Paris and Toronto. Reviewers have said it “brings his creations to life.” Some found it to be “an emotional experience.”
I can’t help but wonder how Vincent would react to his paintings being digitized, magnified, set to loud music, brush strokes from one image morphing into the next. And what would he think about the kitschy souvenirs in the gift shop? His work reproduced on Rubik’s cubes, face masks, socks, bucket hats and more. Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit that for many, many years I used a Starry Night ceramic mug as a pencil holder on my desk.
Thinking about artistic works in their original form brings to mind translation of poetry. It could be said that to translate a poem is, in fact, to create a new poem in a different language. Cultural and artistic elements can be lost in translation. For example, there has recently been some debate about the poem The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman and whether the issue of identity should be considered when engaging a translator.
And what of music? Specifically, the reimagining of lyrics and melodies. My ear seems to favor the familiar most of the time.
As a poet, writer, visual or performing artist, we all take a risk when we try to convey our heartfelt interpretation of our work. When the time came to choose a cover image for my novel Taking Root, I had a concept in mind but not the artistic ability to create what I was envisioning. Thankfully, a talented photographer had composed an image that I thought was very close and an amazing cover designer worked her magic with it.
I rely on artists and photographers for pictures like the one above by Ritesh Arya to complement each of my blog posts. Huge thanks to all of you for sharing your talent!