I love the threesome, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne and Claude Monet. I don’t think that they were a trio, but nonetheless I always thought of them together. They were born around the middle of the 19th century and lived into the early 20th. Van Gogh was Dutch while the others were French. Not that this matters to me for I am not too familiar with European sociology to be able to discern the influence of nationalities upon the individual talents. Yet, pure aesthetics has helped me understand something of these works. The neural impressions I get of these painters are that Monet has a way of capturing time, Cezanne captures space while Van Gogh captures human energies. These attributes brace their styles and not their content. Art uses content for the play of its style. The style is the real business of art just as the soul is the real business of salvation. Art moves close to religion on the one hand and politics on the other because of the transcendence of the concrete by means of the style, known in sociology as structuration, or the emergence into Being.
It is interesting that India where the salvation of the soul is important and perhaps India is also the inventor of such an ontology, yet the Indian painting is a mere abstraction of the concrete. It represents of objects and representations of those objects, juxtaposed with one another to produce newer meanings, generalized, stylized, and presented linguistically. Structuralism, as methodology is useful in studying these representations of objects. But where the impressionists of Europe are concerned, structuralism might not yield us good conclusions for these forms are not about the concrete realities but the transcendence of those, not about identities of artists based in specific political and social milieu but moving beyond them. While such desires of impressionistic artists to move beyond what is merely material and manifest might appear Hegelian, yet we may assign a Kantian intent to these painters. This is because the will to power in the styles of these painters are evident in their resignation into the world of the abstract, so great an abstraction that it may even be a nullity. In terms of Indian philosophy, we mean nirvana. In Nietzsche’s words, this is nihilism; for Zarathustra it would be final revelation of the Light.
Monet seems to have discovered Time, Cezanne discovered Space while Van Gogh gels into his brush, strangely the human energy. Monet’s painting is overwhelmingly Nature, its foliage, its verdant woods, the still waters, the lilies afloat in a pond, aimless and peaceful. The works are almost like life in Paradise, by their equanimity, by the eyes and the minds of the beholders of the work desiring to and intending to stay on here forever.
Cezanne encloses space; his sterling works are of still life. For the hasty mind, still life might mean as time standing still, but rather than that, still life may be looked upon as moments of time captured in the stillness of the canvas. Still life paintings attempt to capture space; only those paintings capture time where they present the flavour of timelessness. Only when the mind is in perfect harmony of colours, thoroughly satiated that it no longer has the desire to move anywhere else, can we say that Time has stood still, its journey into the Universe has now come to an end. Cezanne thus captures space; amazingly and gallantly.
Van Gogh is the most intriguing of the three for he concentrates human energies. There is something about his style that copies the field force of nervous stimulation. Renoir does just the opposite; he dissolves the neural tensions through his strokes.