August 18, 2004

Van Gogh and painterly diagrams

Van Gogh's technique was also to apply a diagram to the figure in order to divert it from purposiveness into an unlocking of sensation. You can see in this work just how, as Deleuze says, for the painter the hand becomes a second eye and the canvas becomes a second mind.

The painter sees the figure. Seeing in this case is just the repetition of singular affects on the complex assemblage of planes of the mind. The eyes and their movement overlay a rhythmic action on this repetition of affects. Secondarily, the painter diverts this rhythm (of movement and light) to the hands, which have corresponding ways of moving, characteristic means of applying paint (and other painterly movements). This is what Deleuze calls the diagram. Van Gogh developed new diagrams of his own, of his own hands, which you can see clearly in this painting. With the application of sensation through the diagram and through the material of the painting, the canvas is built up into zones, lines, contours, planes, thicknesses, colours etc. At this point the painting faces a great danger, as described by Cezanne, the danger of becoming chaotic, of the sensations on the canvas failing to form a balanced and self-sustaining resonance: chaos. Adding new sensations to the canvas inevitably pushes it towards chaos. The greatness of the painter, as you can see in Van Gogh, is the ability to push the canvas towards this catastrophe, only to rescue it and restore the balance and resonances.

In this way, as Kant would have agreed, the adventure of painting is an adventure of the kind experienced in thought itself, an engagement with catastrophe and a subsequent return.

- 2 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Robert O'Toole

    All three of these painters, Bacon, Cezanne and Van Gogh are notable for their failures, their collapses into chaos and catastrophe, the many canvases that they destroyed.

    18 Aug 2004, 12:12

  2. Robert, about the comment on collapses and catastrophes. In the case of van Gogh, there's a book I read recently titled Pox, I think. It's an interesting study of the artists, intellectuals, and public figures of the 19th century who suffered from syphilis. Late stage syphilis brings on a euphoria, or dementia, that the author of this study believes affected the work of van Gogh, also Beethoven, Kant, etc. In my own research about art and artists in society, I'm pondering this in relation to the notion of the 'mad genius.'

    23 Oct 2004, 12:03

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