There are many who would qualify as having changed the way we see the world, but I could only pick four, both for my sanity and yours. Before anyone gets in touch and says they’re all guys, next week I shall be writing about four ladies that changed the way we see the world.
Is there any more inspiring artist than Van Gogh both in the intense suffering of his personal life and the transformative and (still) stunningly original nature of his art?.
In letters to his brother Theo (Penguin Classics, 1997), Vincent wrote:
“I don’t know myself how I paint it.”
Although Vincent was unable to describe his working methods, from his substantial body of letters it is possible to follow the workings of his mind and stand in awe of his powers of observation. For example this description of a wood.
Behind those saplings, behind that brownish-red ground, is a sky of a very delicate blue-grey, warm, hardly blue at all sparkling. And against it there is a hazy border of greenness and a network of saplings and yellowish leaves. A few figures of wood gatherers are foraging about, dark masses of mysterious shadows.
In 1884 Van Gogh wrote to Theo after the latter had complained about the quality of some drawings Vincent had sent and told him his work needed to improve a great deal!
Vincent’s reply was:
“As far as saleability or unsaleability is concerned, that’s a dead horse I don’t intend to go on flogging.”
One of the prime lessons Van Gogh’s life offers us is how to believe in yourself as an artist, when the rest of the world doesn’t. I often wonder what would he and Theo make of the crowd control measures now necessary outside the Van Gogh Museum in Amerstdam?
Including poems inspired by the work of Vincent Van Gogh – No Enemies, No Hatred is the title of a collection of writings by dissident and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo (1955-2017).
For the role he played in drafting and advocating the human rights manifesto called Charter 08 which called for democratic reform in China, Liu Xiaobo was arrested and in December 2009 sentenced to 11 years in Jinzhou prison.
In 2010 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize much to the chagrin of the authorities in China who tried to prevent any celebration of this award. Unable even to send a family member to Oslo, Liu’s Nobel lecture speech was given in absentia and read by the actress Liv Ullman. He died in July 2017. Here is an extract from his speech:
“But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by the convictions I expressed … twenty years ago – I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity ….”
And on free speech:
“Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress truth.” ~ Liu Xiaobo
Daisaku Ikeda is one of the world’s foremost living Buddhist philosophers, spiritual leader to millions across the globe who practise Nichiren Buddhism. He is the recipient of numerous peace and humanitarian awards and author of more than sixty books.
Here he is on the power of reading.
“Reading is dialogue with oneself, it is self-reflection which cultivates profound humanity. Reading is therefore essential to our development. It expands and enriches the personality like a seed that germinates after a long time and sends forth many blossom laden branches.
People who can say of a book “this changed my life” truly understand the meaning of happiness. Reading that sparks inner revolution is desperately needed to escape drowning in the rapidly advancing information society, Reading is more than intellectual ornamentation, it is a battle for the establishment of the self, a ceaseless challenge that keeps us young and vigorous.”
(Middleway Press, 2006)
No post on inspiration can be complete without a poet. But which poet to choose? I have decided on Rainer Maria Rilke not because I can read him in the original which I can’t sadly, but because the soul tearing profundity of his ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ is the same in any language.
And to speak again of solitude, it becomes increasingly clear that this is fundamentally not something we can choose or reject. We are solitary. We can delude ourselves about it, and pretend that it is not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realise that we are thus, to start directly from that very point. Then to be sure, it will come about that we grow dizzy; for all the points upon which our eyes have been accustomed to rest will be taken away from us, there is no longer any nearness, and all distance is infinitely far.
Next week I shall be posting about four inspirational ladies who changed (or are changing) the way we see the world.