Item 1583 - Compassion in the art of Vincent van Gogh

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Reference code

CA ON00389 1-9-1-1583

Title

Compassion in the art of Vincent van Gogh

Date(s)

  • May 1976 (Creation)

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3 p. of textual records

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(1932-1996)

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This item is a 3 page article by Henri Nouwen, entitled, ‘Compassion in the Art of Vincent Van Gogh, published in The Catholic Worker, May 1976, PP 3,4,12. This article was previously published in the journal America, March 13, 1976. In this article Nouwen uses the letters to his brother Theo and the paintings of the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh to write of the expression of compassion in a human life. Nouwen states as the aspects of compassion he wishes to look at in the following way: ‘When we read Vincent’s letters and contemplate his paintings and drawings, three aspects of compassion come into focus: solidarity, consolation and comfort’. He then goes on with regard to these aspects to say, ‘When we say, “Blessed are the compassionate,” we do so because the compassionate manifest their human solidarity by crying out with those who suffer. They console by feeling deeply the wounds of life, and they offer comfort by pointing beyond the human pains to glimpses of strength and hope. 1) Solidarity: Nouwen suggests that although a sense of human solidarity might seem obvious that capacity has receded in our society. But he describes Vincent’s sense of it: ‘He realized that the road to human solidarity is painful and lined by weeping willows, but once Vincent found his aim in life, nothing, absolutely nothing, could hold him back’. 2) Consolation: Nouwen begins this aspect ‘when we have given up our desire to be different and have recognized our intimate solidarity with the human condition, then consolation can manifest itself. In Vincent Van Gogh, Nouwen sees consolation growing out of the artists desire to ‘come in touch with the heart of life as he saw it in the poor of spirit… for him, to draw meant to draw out of his fellow human beings that which binds them together’. Nouwen concludes this section by stating, ‘Consolation indeed asks for the sincere struggle to reach into the center of human brokenness; out of its common depths compassion can be expressed’. 3) Comfort: ‘Comfort…is the great human gift that creates community. Those who come together in mutual vulnerability are bound together by a new strength that makes them into one body’. Nouwen goes on to describe how Van Gogh especially in his later life tried to comfort by ‘drawing out of the dirtiest corners of life a ray of light’. Van Gogh’s own suffering of loneliness, obscurity and mental anguish, did not obscure the reality that ‘it is the sun that has made Vincent famous’.

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Published in The Catholic Worker 42, no. 4 (May 1976): 3-4, 12.
"This article first appeared in America magazine, March 13, 1976."
Newspaper has been photocopied (located with item in file).
A small quote by Nouwen is also found at the bottom of p. 11 regarding cravings for unity and wholeness.

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2000 02 ; 2009 01

Location

Box 294

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