Jozef Israëls, Peasant Family at the Table, 1882
There are many who view Van Gogh’s potato eaters as grotesque and ugly in comparison to academic renderings which Vincent was well aware of, like the painting by Israels above. I don’t see Vincent’s peasants as any different from the people beaten down into poverty and madness by the same kind of unjust system that exists today. I find the art that covers up these human realities, which is used to decorate the homes of the very people who keep the lower class in misery, much more grotesque than I find the other social realist paintings now consigned to oblivion by the judgments of elitist art critics, artists and art buyers.
Dordrecht, March 8, 1877
There are days in one’s life when all members suffer because one member suffers, and when there is true “Godly sorrow;” God is not far, He who will hold us. If we believe that, let us, in those days, fervently devote my life, more so than is now the case, to the service of Him and the gospel. I continue to insist and I believe that I’ll be heard. I say this in all humility and bowing myself down as it were. It is such an important and such a difficult matter, and yet I desire it. One might say it isn’t humanly possible, but if I think about it more seriously and delve beneath the surface of what is humanly possible, then truly my soul waiteth upon God, for it is possible for Him who speaks and it is done; who commands and it stands, and it stands fast. O Theo, Theo, old boy, if only it might happen to me and that deluge of downcastness about everything which I undertook and failed at, that torrent of reproaches I’ve heard and felt, if it might be taken away from me and if I might be given the opportunity and the strength and the love required to develop and to persevere and to stand firm in that for which Father and I would offer the Lord such heartfelt thanks . A handshake in thought and regards to everyone at the Rooses. Ask it for me in this thy day, and believe me .
Your most loving brother,
The following two paragraphs open up the Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. The book was composed from what was found in a trunk filled with random reflections and unpublished writings collected over years by the Portuguese poet. His literary genius was largely unrecognized until after his death in 1935. The Book of Disquiet was published posthumously.
I was born in a time when the majority of young people had lost faith in God, for the same reason their elders had had it–without knowing why. And since the human spirit naturally tends to make judgements based on feeling instead of reason, most of these young people choose Humanity to replace God. I, however, am the sort of person who is always on the fringe of what he belongs to, seeing not only the multitude he’s a part of but also the wide-open spaces around it. That’s why I didn’t give up God as completely as they did, and I never accepted Humanity. I reasoned that God, while improbably, might exist, in which case he should be worshipped; whereas Humanity, being a mere biological idea and signifying nothing more than the animal species we belong to, was no more deserving of worship than any other animal species . The cult of Humanity, with its rites of Freedom and Equality, always struck me as a revival of those ancient cults in which gods were like animals or animal heads.
And so, not knowing how to believe in God, and unable to believe in an aggregate of animals, I, along with other people on the fringe, kept a distance from things, a distance commonly called Decadence.