Vincent Van Gogh/Fernando Pessoa and God

josef israels


Jozef Israëls, Peasant Family at the Table, 1882

potato eatersVincent  van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885

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

Dear Theo,

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,


portuguese hellUnknown Portuguese painter, circa 1510-1520

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 The book was composed from what was found in a trunk filled with random reflections and unpublished writings collected over years by the Portuguese poet.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.

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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4 Responses to Vincent Van Gogh/Fernando Pessoa and God

  1. johndockus says:

    Have you ever seen any of the movies of Bela Tarr? In his most recent one of 2011, which may be his last (he’s suggested it’s probably his last) entitled The Turin Horse, there are scenes of a father and his daughter, living in extreme poverty and running out of resources, sitting at a wooden table and eating boiled potatoes. The father blows on his steaming potato to cool it off, uses his fingernails to scrape the skin off, and quickly pounds on it to mush it up before beginning to eat it. The daughter does the same, going about eating her boiled potato in a similar way. Very little dialogue in the whole movie, but a deep rhythm in the stark minimalism which is like life itself stripped to bone, only the vital essence remaining, threatened like a flickering flame in a storm. I found this movie profoundly moving, and think it shares a correspondence on some level with Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters.

    Thank you for this post, Bart. I think it’s great. Potato food for thought.


  2. trueoutsider says:

    John, I hope you won’t object to my trimming your comments, as I said in my last reply to you that we really have to work toward making things more manageable and avoid running off in too many directions.

    You’re association of Vincent’s painting with the Tarr movie is a first-rate observation which I’d never thought of, either now or when I saw the film last year. Thanks for pointing it out to me. I thought it a stunning movie and take Tarr at his word that it’s his last. It stands as a culmination of his cinematic efforts, after which there seems little more to say. A great filmmaker.

    I’d also mention that his long time collaborator, the great novelist Laszlo Kraznahorkai just won the 2015 Man Booker prize, and I think of the title to his great novel The Melancholy of Resistance when I think about maintaining this blog for so many years. His novels are difficult reading but the ones I’ve read worth (Melancholy and Seiobo) the effort. Have long wanted to read Satantango, as the film Tarr made from it is fantastic. His work recalls another of my favorite directors, Andrei Tarkovsky. He’s also reminiscent of Bergman.

    I’m going to put up the youtube scene that has the one bit of dialogue here… wish I could find one without the voiceover .. Best to turn it down and just read the translation. “Touch, acquire and debase”… Wonder who he’s talking about?:

  3. trueoutsider says:

    PS… I am reading the other remarks and will archive them. I’m not just throwing them away. I’ve had my wife read through our last exchange and she told me what I’d thought was the case… When conversations ramble all over the back and beyond readers just tune out. Hope you understand.


  4. johndockus says:

    No objection to the trimming, Bart. It did take me aback at first, but it didn’t hurt or offend me really, does me no fatal harm. I’ve been taking this as an opportunity to explore my own heart and mind, dredging up thoughts from my subconsciousness, feeling out for my own particular rhythm in giving expression to them, and trying to improve my own writing, and you’re a good one to do this around, because of your own genuine passion. Your own inner fire helps burn away impurities!

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