The Doctor: “Between you and me, in a hundred words, where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art?”
Curator: “Well… um… big question, but, to me Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
–Richard Curtis (writer), Vincent and the Doctor (5.10), Doctor Who
A post is being formulated about my newfound love for the British sci-fi series called Doctor Who. This quote is from the last season, with Matt Smith as the Doctor. Though I still have an undying love for David Tennant and thus did not enjoy season 5 quite as much, this quote stuck out to me for a number of reasons.
All you really need to know about the episode is that the Doctor and Amy travel back in time to meet Vincent Van Gogh and save a town from some sort of alien that only Van Gogh could see. Tony Curran’s portrayal of Van Gogh was magnificent, and he managed to toe the line between the madness and the genius that we understand to be Van Gogh.
The first reason this quote is true is that Van Gogh was able to turn his pain into beauty. That’s what art is, really. It’s taking emotion that is unable to be expressed and turning it into something that is meaningful and beautiful. The light is what is glorious, even in the midst of darkness. Artists need to remember to be honest about pain and struggle, but to harness that psychic energy (if you will) and create something that shines light into those dark places, not cleaning them up but rather illuminating them for all to see.
The other reason this quote is wonderful to me needs a bit of context. Let me explain: at the end of the episode, the Doctor brings Van Gogh to the present day (i.e. 2010) to a museum in London where a huge Van Gogh exhibit was opened. Van Gogh was speechless, a man who in his present day was ridiculed and humiliated, no one interested in his work. The Doctor then asks the Curator this question, and the Curator answers as such. Van Gogh is beyond grateful and for once hopeful and joyful. We do not get the chance to tell those sorts of artists what they have done for us, not the ones who are already gone. But we can tell the artists we know now how their work is impacting us. It’s easier now than ever to communicate, even with famous folks. Maybe they’ll never read your letter. But maybe they will, and it’ll keep them creating. You never know. Also, I can guarantee you, those budding artists around you – painters, writers, musicians, actors – need encouragement to keep going, especially in this world that says there is no room for another artist. Tell those you see fighting the good fight to create and to communicate passion that they are doing something worthwhile and beautiful. It will mean everything to them.