SELECTED EXTRACTS FROM OUR LECTURES
Printed below are short extracts from our programme of lectures. These extracts are succinct and carry various but particular points which can be of special interest.
'VINCENT VAN GOGH: A SYMBOLIST LIFE' by ALAN TAYLOR
In this extract Alan Taylor first quotes Albert Aurier, from an article in which Aurier
described the Symbolist characteristics of Vincent's work. Taylor then goes on to give his
own interesting and concise thoughts on the meaning of the word - "Symbol".
(Alan Taylor is a lecturer on fine art, an artist, and a psychotherapist, living and working in North London).
The qualities which Van Gogh brought to his painting were analysed perceptively by the
French art critic, Albert Aurier (1865 - 1892). Aurier was also a poet and member of the
Symbolists group. In the first article ever written on Vincent van Gogh, which appeared
in the inaugural issue of 'Mercure de France' in January 1890, he wrote,
"In the case of Vincent van Gogh - his choice of subjects, the constant harmony of the
most excessive colours, the honesty in the study of his characters, the continuous
search for the essential meaning of each object, a thousand significant details
unquestionably proclaim his profound and almost childlike sincerity, his great love of
nature and of truth - of his own truth. - This can be seen in the almost orgiastic excesses
of everything that he painted; he is a fanatic, an enemy of bourgeois sobriety, and of
trifling details. - He is no doubt very conscious of pigment, of its importance and beauty,
but also, and most frequently, he considers this enchanting pigment only as a marvellous
language destined to express an idea. Almost always he is a symbolist - feeling the
constant urge to clothe his ideas in precise, ponderable, tangible forms, in corporeal and
material envelopes. There lies in practically all his canvases, for those who know how to
find it, a thought, an idea. And this idea, the essential synthesis of his work, is also at
the same time its efficient and final cause. He had for a long time cherished the idea of
inventing an art of painting that was very simple and popular, almost childlike, capable of
touching humble people who do not care for subtlety." (End of quote).
Aurier concluded that great works of art should simultaneously be:
1. ideist, that is have an idea.
3. synthetist, that is have congruent forms.
5. superbly decorative.
What do I mean by the word/term, symbol?
Philosophers, of course, have also envisioned nature as a reconciliation of the harmony
of opposites, and conceived of art as a demonstration of these ideas. The aesthetic
theories with which the symbolists became familiar are ancient Greek ideas about the
effect on the psyche of forms and colours. The correspondences that bind the universe
together make symbolism possible. The word symbol derives from the Greek roots esyni,
meaning together, and eballieni, to throw. eSymboloni was the name given to a bone
broken by friends into two parts that were kept as tokens of their emotional union, and
esymboli has therefore always signified both the physical and spiritual aspects in joining
together separate parts to a unified whole. The symbol restores something incomplete to
its original state of integration by reconnecting the individual to the world by
synthesising matter and spirit, form and idea. Most cultures have perceived symbols as
having religious implications. A symbol conceals something yet is a revelation. A symbol is
an unconscious invention in answer to a conscious problem, and a very powerful
communication, such as for example, the Christian sacrament.
More Lecture Extracts will be Posted Soon