What might have happened had Vincent gone to art school

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh

It is early morning, and a young art student stands outside his tutor’s study door. He knocks, the door is opened.

Good morning, sir.  I’ve come for your feedback on my first assignment – Vincent van Gogh.

Hey!..Vince, Vince, come in and take a seat.

Thank you, sir.

Could you just lose the sir, Vince? It’s a little old-fashioned, you know? – Pete will do fine.

OK, Pete.

Right-oh, okeydokey, what do we have here……..aaaaaah…….yeees……the sunflowers.

Yes, sir – sorry – Pete.

Well I gotta give it to you straight Vince – you see this just won’t do at this level, it’s really not in line with contemporary practice at all. I mean, flowers, well…..this is an art course, Vince, not a calendar publishers. I gotta ask you, Vince, I mean what are you trying to say here?

Well, I love flowers and the colours were…….

Yeah, well you see that’s another thing. Have you thought about losing the colour? I mean it kinda distracts from the message, don’t it? Well it would if you had a message. And that reminds me, I don’t see your artist’s statement here anywhere…..makes it a little difficult to know what to say about this.

Well, Pete, I believed it spoke for itself, and if I had to explain it to people then I hadn’t succeeded.

Ah, Vinnie…..you just ain’t got no idea have you? The artist’s statement can change everything.

How’s that, sir – sorry! – Pete?

Well, Vince, if you referred to the sunflowers as a post-modernist ironical statement on the vernacular perception of summer, it would put a whole new shine on the thing – in fact you could critique their sentimentality while carrying through their essential Provencal-ness – I really think that might work.

But that’s not what I meant to do, Pete.

Yeah, yeah, well that doesn’t matter, it’s how you present the thing Vince, you gotta learn that if you’re going to fit here.

Can I just get this clear, Pete? You mean that if I paint the sunflowers because I find they fill me with joy and I want to show people that I see something wonderfully transcendent in them, they’re no good, but if I paint the same picture and say it’s a – what was it? post-modern ironical statement? – then it’s OK?

Now you’re getting it, Vinnie, keep going like this and you’ll do well.

Uh……….OK, so if I have to have an artist’s statement, what kind of thing do I say?

Well, Vince, it’s not really for me to say, but you could try something like this:

My work explores the relationship between acquired synesthesia and the liminal spaces.
With influences as diverse as Schopenhauer and Florence Nightingale new combinations are crafted from both constructed and discovered layers.
Ever since I was in the womb I have been fascinated by the unrelenting divergence of meaning. What starts out as undefined soon becomes manipulated into a carnival of power, leaving only a sense of decadence and the dawn of a new reality.
As subtle derivatives become clarified through frantic and academic practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the edges of our existence.

Much better, don’tcha think, Vince?

Uhhh…..

OK, let’s move on now. I haven’t seen any evidence here of research Vince, or how you’ve placed yourself in the context of the history of painting.

I didn’t know I had to do that, sir.

Pete, Vince, Pete……hell, yeah, it’s essential to research thoroughly before you even pick up your brush; I gotta admit I can’t believe you didn’t know that.

But why do I need to do that, Pete? I like to think I paint spontaneously from the heart and allow my art to emerge; if I try to plan it, it never seems to work. And if I spent lots of time looking at what other painters had done with flowers, seems to me I’d have a lot less time for painting.

Yeah, yeah, that’s all fine and dandy, but remember the essay, Vincent! You’ll be writing a critique on this when we get to Assignment four, so you gotta do your research, boy! You gotta recognise your influences!

Pete, can we cut to the chase here – would you just tell me what mark I got for this?

Well, Vince, I did what I could but I’m afraid I had to fail you – sorry an’ all that.

You failed me?! I’m pretty upset about that Pete. Could you tell me what I need to do to get my mark up?

Vinnie, Vinnie, it’s simple. Just get that artist’s statement done – you can do that first before you get going on the painting – and you want to spend a good part of your time researching, because I have to say it, Vince, there’s a touch of the chocolate-box about your work you know. I mean, you might get away with the flowers if you put them in an empty skull, or you could investigate the technical aspect and paint them using cutlery, or maybe you could freeze them and then explode them.  And I know you’re short of cash, boy, so you could turn that to your advantage – how about painting the flowers with your own blood, or you could try cow dung – I don’t think that’s been done yet and you’d save a helluva lot on the materials. Uh…Vincent? Vince? Where you going, Vince?

The door swings shut behind Vincent.