Vincent van Gogh struggled with so many things—mental illness, addiction, (ahem) lady problems—but at least he may have enjoyed his work. I saw The Starry Night in person at the Yale University Art Gallery last weekend. I stood there staring at the thick swirls of paint that make up the sky above Saint-Remy with the shadowy green cypress tree in the foreground, and all I could think was how much fun that it must have been to paint that scene. A little bit soothing, a little bit hypnotic, but mostly just fun to do, dragging a brush through the slick paint and seeing it ooze and furl.
Sometimes the struggle to create art overshadows the sensory pleasure that goes along with sculpting, painting, performing or installing a work. We never really talk or ask about the enjoyable side of it. Probably because it makes a serious work seem not-so-serious, but imagining van Gogh getting just a tiny bit of pure pleasure or fun out of painting certainly makes his sad run of luck in life seem a little less so.
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, Saint-Rémy, June 1889. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, Aquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, 1941