Forty years ago, Don McLean wrote and recorded a beautiful ballad entitled “Vincent” with its unforgettable refrain “Starry, starry night”, recalling one of van Gogh’s most famous paintings, “La Nuit Etoilée” (Musée d’Orsay).
Vincent van Gogh was not the only gifted artist whose genius went unrecognized during his short life-time, shortened, in his case, by its tragic end. Unique among the iconoclastic Impressionists, he broke new ground, abandonning the traditional tenets of his art, daring to give expression to his own special perception of the flowers and haystacks in the fields near my home in the Val d’Oise, of people’s faces, including his own, of buildings, bedrooms, chapels and churches like those found in his village of Auvers-sur-Oise, five kilometers from mine, L’Isle-Adam.
The song repeats the theme that van Gogh tried to liberate art-lovers from the rigid dogmas of the classic forms to which they had become accustomed, so as to be able to perceive the world as he did. Addressing Vincent, the ballad recalls “how you tried to set them free” and laments : “They would not listen; they did not know how. Perhaps they’ll listen now.” It ends on a less optimistic note : “They would not listen; they’re not listening still. Perhaps they never will.” (I believe most of us today have.)
It would be outrageous, absurd arrogance for anyone, and a fortiori, the present writer to compare such a rejection and the later posthumous recognition of a genius’ masterpieces with the incomprehension, rejection and hoped-for appreciation of his own creations, including this blog, by some of its readers. Omne exemplum claudicat, “every example limps”, but this one would be nothing less than paralytic. Nevertheless, it does serve as a necessary reminder that it is unreasonable to expect iconoclasts to be universally welcomed with open arms, and, in the present context, open minds. Cultural blindness often impedes innovation and the rejection of traditional art and thought. A radical questioning of traditional religious beliefs touching the very meaning of life and death has proven not only likewise difficult for those who dare to differ, but sometimes fatal for the author.
I do not seriously expect a fatwa from fanatics for writing From Illusions to Illumination and Blind Faith : Blind Folly. But nor do I expect a tsunami of conversions of Believers on the Brink (Undecided Believers at the Fork in the Road) to atheism. I do however find some comfort in the fact that the work of an artist who tried to liberate his contemporaries’ vision of the criteria for painting, like many other innovators in the fields of science, music and philosophy, eventually found acceptance and appreciation, even if he never lived to see them. I would prefer that readers would welcome the truth I have tried to share with them, so that they might enjoy the freedom I have myself found in atheism. “Perhaps they never will.” I know many will not, even after I’m dead. If some do, I will, as they say, rest in peace.