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For those studying art and fine arts, please tell me, what exactly is good about Van Gogh's paintings??




Today I bumped into this post, the original post was in Chinese. The OP asked that question on Zhi Hu 知乎, a Chinese forum for online Q&A that's similar to the English equivalent of Quora.


My current art teacher Wei Wei Laoshi 唯伟老师 provided the following response in Chinese and received over 7360 upvotes. I read the response and thought it's very thoughtful and insightful, therefore I'm translating it to English and sharing this with my English speaking friends who are also interested in art and asked the same questions many times.


Here is the text that elaborated more about OP's thoughts on Van Gogh's paintings:


For those studying art and fine arts, please tell me, what exactly is good about Van Gogh's paintings??


I'm not an art student and have zero drawing skills. Recently, I saw that Shenzhen is going to host a Van Gogh art exhibition. I tried looking at a few of his paintings... Forgive me, you can criticize me, but I really don't understand what's so good about his paintings~~ They look all wobbly~~ Ahhh~~~


And here is my teacher's response:


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You have touched upon the core power behind the aesthetics of art—power.


In the beginning, I wanted to tell you


"how I was moved by Van Gogh's paintings,


which painting I first encountered him with,


and how each subsequent encounter made us like Van Gogh more and more."


I wanted to tell you bit by bit how great an artist he was.


Until I saw and understood your question description:


I am not an art student, zero drawing skills, and recently saw that Shenzhen is going to host a Van Gogh art exhibition. I tried looking at a few pieces... Forgive me, you can criticize me, but I really don't know what is so good about these paintings~~ They are wobbly~~ Ahhh~~


Such a subtle plea for protection.


If you want to understand what is so great about a famous work that you find difficult to be moved by, you have explored and found that if you directly say it is bad, you will face a lot of verbal attacks.


This is power; it makes the lower-class individuals first question their own intuition.


One art critic after another, art histories, and books.


Exhibitions in large museums again and again, turning your confusion about this or that painting being exceptional into a question of what exactly you see wrong, repeatedly failing to appreciate these demanding works.


Linda Nochlin pointed out:


When a classical oil painting in a European museum was discovered to be painted by a female disciple of David, its price quickly dropped from tens of thousands of francs to several thousand francs.


This reveals a paradox, or rather a tacit truth—that whether a painting is good or not is not the key factor in determining the value of an artwork.


This is power; it is the true force behind the pricing of art.


And when Bouguereau Cromwell studied art history at university, he discovered a very surprising phenomenon:


There were about 300 years of painting during the Renaissance, mostly portraits commissioned for popes and archbishops.


The clients primarily used these artworks as a means to show off their power.


But these painters manifested so much brilliant creativity.


He was an ordinary person who also wanted to become a professional painter. Throughout his painting learning career, he was always taught to respect himself and paint for his inner self to stimulate strong creativity.


The reality of the society he lived in, whether in wealth or cultural complexity, could not be compared to the Italy during the Renaissance period.


But why?


Why did so many professional painters and excellent works appear in that era?


After reading this book "Painting, Power and Patronage: The Rise of Professional Artists in Renaissance Italy,"


You will find:


A sound power-money transaction mechanism is the fundamental soil where "art" can flourish.


Those outstanding painters who accomplished nothing relied on the desire for power to represent their identity.


Wouldn't the world become very absurd then? Wouldn't there be no good or bad?


Is aesthetics dictated by those in power?


Then you have to ask yourself, what is power?


If there is only one person in this world, does he have power?


No.


Power only comes into being when the second person appears. And it inevitably comes into being.


Power is the ultimate authority to interpret another person.


When you can tell another person what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is bad.

You are the one who has power.


If he does not submit to you, and you can make him submit, you have used the means of maintaining authority—violence.


And in this process, you discover that you are better than him.


It turns out I am smarter and stronger than him; this is power.


This is the fundamental drive of the birth of power—the confirmation of one's own sense of existence.


Think back to the process just now, almost all of us are exercising power over another person,

Power is omnipresent.


Because this is the fundamental energy behind all discourse flows.


It is the ever-flowing "currency" that serves as an important means of payment.


Clever words, eloquent debates, strong fists.


Are just the means for the circulation of "power currency."


In matters of aesthetics, there is always someone who understands beauty better than you.


He can always deny your taste.


To deny your taste is to deny your existence.


But I also have those moments of indescribable emotion; I really think it is beautiful.


Isn't that resonance between you and me a kind of power struggle?


When we savor it within ourselves, it is not the same as when he does.


When we openly express, speaking to one person after another.


Even when we try to convince others to agree with us.


There is, more or less, a bit of that involved.


So we always need to communicate, don't we? Can we just stop talking?


It's just an ongoing power struggle.


Ah, that's why Sartre so despairingly said that famous quote: "Hell is other people."


But it is precisely because of this essential existence, that makes genuine and truthful communication such a precious existence.


When we create those many emotional pieces, and another person smiles slightly, showing the same feeling, do we feel especially spiritually touched?


He neither refutes me nor convinces me.


When our two pairs of eyes meet, it is the moment when power dissolves.


Unfortunately, such confidants are always few and far between.


After all, there are no two identical leaves in the world.


But when we can transcend narcissism and seek common ground while preserving differences in opinions, we achieve a state of using power without being controlled by power.


This is the mature attitude of a mature person towards power.


And a person can resist the temptation of power precisely because he shifts his focus from self-comparison to the essence of being.


Shifting to the exploration of self and the origin of the world.


Comparison is our fundamental means of understanding things, but it is also the root of our painful desires.


So meditators emphasize letting go of this attachment, purely observing, entering a state of emptiness, letting thoughts arise and cease naturally.


Without making judgments.


This is another way of living, escaping from the circulation of judgments, letting go of power struggles.


And in painting, we have also enjoyed similar uncritical happiness.


A blank sheet of paper and a pen, begin drawing without worries, and before you know it, an afternoon has passed.


Playing the guitar and dancing can also be like this.


Reading a book and getting engrossed, thinking deeply about problems, climbing mountains and crossing rivers in Zelda, we all immerse ourselves in a state of flow.


This is flow.


In that process, we don't want to tell others anything or prove anything.


It's just that when the flow ends, sometimes we want to share this happiness.


So Chinese artists often emphasize introspection in their paintings, painting what they think and see.


The painting is for themselves.


It is a means of cultivation.


So they think looking at others' paintings is like looking in a mirror.


Different paintings will reflect your likes and dislikes.


A peaceful person will know: Oh, I don't like this feeling, I like that feeling.


They might even ponder why this is.


Those who seek to understand its subtleties will come to realize this through deep contemplation.


But from beginning to end, they will never tell others:


I think his painting is very ugly (or very good) because we will ultimately understand that everyone is alone.


When we turn our gaze inward rather than outward, we discover a truly vast and magnificent universe.


We can then break free from the confusion of power struggles.


And find moments of tranquility in this world full of comparisons.


By that time, it won't be necessary to keep asking others what is good about Van Gogh's paintings.


We will have our own answers in our hearts.


When we see something we don't agree with, we won't feel the need to immediately criticize it, because at that time, you no longer need those things as much.


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Below is my teacher's response in the original language:


你触碰到了艺术审美背后的核心力量——权力。


一开始,我很想告诉你,


我是如何被梵高的绘画打动的


我和他第一次相遇是在哪一张画,


然后历次的再遇让我们就越来越喜欢梵高的。


我想一点一点告诉你,他是一个多么伟大的画家。


直到我看到了解了你的问题描述:


我不是艺术生,绘画0,最近看到深圳要举办梵高艺术展,我试着看了几幅,......原谅我,可以喷我,我真的不知道画得哪好啊 歪歪扭扭啊啊啊~~


多少显微地诉求保护啊。


你只要想理解下一件在感受上难以触动自己的名作好在哪


你便探判到了,如果直接说他不好,将会遭受很多言论攻击


这是权力力,他会让下位者首先质疑自己的直觉。


一个又一个的艺术审查家,艺术史和书籍。


一次又一次在大博物馆的展览


让你从这幅画或那幅画了不得的困惑


变成了我到底看得出什么问题,屡次欣赏不来这令人苛刻的作品。


琳达·诺克林(Linda Nochlin)指出:


欧洲的一个博物馆里的古典油画被发现是大卫女弟子所画时,这幅价格很快从几万法郎跌到了几千法郎


这就揭示了一个悖论,或者说是默认的真相——画得好不好并不是决定艺术品价值高低的关键。


这是权力力,他才是为艺术品背后定价的真正力量。


而布格尔·克朗威尔在大学里研究艺术史时,发现了一个很惊奇的现象:


文艺复兴时期有300年左右的绘画,基本上都是为教皇大主教们画的肖像画,


客户们主要是把这些艺术作品当成炫耀自己权利的手段。


但是这些画家们却创造出了那么多璀璨的创造力。


他是一个普通人,以前也很想当一个职业画师,


在他的绘画学习生涯中一直被教导要尊重自我,为自己的内心去绘画才能激发强烈的创造力

他所存在的现实社会无论是商业机制还是文明制度,都远不是文艺复兴时期的意大利可以比拟。


可是为什么?


为什么在那样一个时代出现了那么多职业画家和那么多优秀的作品?


看完这本《绘画、权力与资助机制:文艺复兴时期意大利职业艺术家的兴起》


你就会发现:


完善的权钱交易机制才是“艺术”可以蓬勃发展的根本土壤。


那些无所作为的杰出画家都靠着权力的欲代表自己身份的标志。


那这个世界可就大荒谬了吗?难道就不存在好与坏了吗?


审美都是有权有势的人说了算吗?


那就要问问自己了,什么是权力?


如果这个世界上只有一个人,他有权力吗?


没有


只有当第2个人出现的时候,权力才会诞生。也必然会诞生。


权力就是对另一个人行使最终解释权。


当你可以告诉另一个人,什么是对,什么是错,什么是好,什么是坏。


你就是那个拥有权力的人。


如果他不服你,你还能够把他打服了,你就使用了维护权利的手段——暴力。


而在这个过程里,你发现了,你比他牛逼。


原来我比他更聪明,更有力量,这就是权力。


这就是权力诞生的根本动力——确认自身存在感。


好好回头刚才那个过程,几乎我们每个人都在对另外一个人施加权力,

权力无处不在。


因为这就是所有言论流背后的根本能源。


它就是永流流的作为重要支付的“货币”。


聪明的言辞,巧舌如簧的辩论,孔武有力的拳头。


不过是替“权力货币”流通的手段。


在审美这个事情上,总有一个比你更懂美的。


他总能否认你的品位。


否认了你的品位,就是否认你的存在。


可是我也有那种不可言状的感动时刻呀,我是真的觉得他很美。


难道那种你我之间的共鸣不是一种权力的争夺吗?


当我们松露出味,就是在内心里品味时,他不是。


当我们公开着,对着一个又一个的他人诉说时。


甚至想要说服别人也认为可的时候。


那就或多或少有那么些了。


那么总是要交流的呀,难不成我们不说话了吗?


只是一次流通着的权力斗争。


嗯啊,所以萨特才那么绝望地说出了那句名言:“他人即地狱。”


但正是因为这份本质的存在,


才让羞惭的交流成为了难能可贵的存在。


当我们挤出一幅幅那么多打动自己的时候,另一个人微微一笑,露出同样的感慨,


我们会特别灵魂被受到寸马吗。


他既不反驳,也不说服我。


我们的两双目注视着时,便是权力瓦解的时刻。


遗憾的是这样的知己总是少之又少。


毕竟世界上没有两片相同的树叶。


但是当我们能够从自恋的中超脱出来


对不一致的意见求同存异时


我们就做到了使用权力而不被权力所控制的状态。


这是一个成熟的人成熟面对权力的态度。


而一个人之所以能够有这样的能力抵抗权力的诱惑。


恰恰在于他把关注点从自我比较转移到全然本身


转移到了对自我和世界本源的探索。


比较是我们认知事物的根本手段,


也是我们陷入欲望的苦痛根源。


所以禅修者强调放下这种执着


纯然观察,进入到空性的状态


任由念头生灭。


不做评判。


这是一种别样的生活方式,


从评判的流通背中跳脱出来,


放下权力的斗争。


而我们在绘画中


也曾经享受过类似的没有批判的快乐。


一张白纸一支笔,


无忧无虑地开始绘写,


不知不觉一个下午就过去了。


弹吉他和跳舞时亦会如此


看书看到着迷之时


思考问题细心计算之时


在塞尔达里爬山涉水时


我们都投入到了一种忘我之中


这就是心流


在那个过程里,我们并没有想要向别人说什么,论证什么


只是心流结束时,偶尔有时候想分享一下这种快乐。


所以中国的文人画常常强调内观自我


画自己所想所见。


画是给自己看的。


是一种修行的手段


所以他们觉得


看别人的画,就是在照镜子。


不同的画会照出你的喜恶。


平和的人会知道:噢,原来我不喜欢这种感觉,我喜欢那种感觉。


可能还会思索一下,这是为什么。


想驱妙处的还会封于凝虑,原来如此。


但自始至终他都不会跟别人说:


我觉得他画的很丑(很好)


因为我们最终会知道每个人都是孤独的。


当我们把目光转向自我而不是外界的时候


我们就发现了那个真正广阔而壮丽的宇宙。


就可以从权力力的迷津中跳脱出来。


在这个充满比较的世界里获得片刻的宁静。


到那个时候,梵高的绘画到底好在哪里?


也不需要数遍问别人了,我们心里会有一份属于自己的答案


当我们看到别人的心时不合时,也不会想要马上去批判


因为那个时候的你已经不太需要这些了。

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