Lessons from “At Eternity’s Gate”
“Do you think God gave you the gift of painting to keep you in misery?”
These were the words of the priest to Vincent at the asylum when they were deciding whether he was ready to leave the asylum to face the world.
Even as a hermit, I did not initially expect to relate to Van Gogh, eccentric as he was. As lovely as his works are, he is often used as the epitome of romanticizing mental illness as a catalyst for creativity. But in the film relayed from Vincent’s perspective himself, there were things he said that I myself had said before. He often described why he painted: “The faster I paint, the better I feel. I paint to stop thinking. When I’m painting, I feel like a part of everything inside and outside of me”.
For a year, this was how I painted. Sometimes I would even submit two plates instead of one. I had obsessive thoughts I wanted to escape. In the process, I had isolated myself. Any time I wasn’t creating something, I felt irritable and uneasy.
Just like Vincent, I was forced to reevaluate the way I viewed the world during my breakdown. So much was lost, and yet I couldn’t agree more with Vincent when he said, “Illness can sometimes cure us”.
It was during that breakdown that a friend of mine once told me, “Art must not be an escape. It must give you a vision and courage to live in reality”. These words have inspired me to reconsider the way I paint. Since then I started listening to talks about faith and art, and decided to transition from purely sensual and dig deeper.
Personally, I like this film much better than “Loving Vincent”, which I found rather dragging, and was told from the perspective of people who were acquainted with Vincent after he died.
“At Eternity’s Gate”, in my opinion, reveals more beauty in the life of Vincent, which can be found in his friendships with Paul Gauguin, his brother, Theo, and the doctor he painted a portrait of.
I definitely feel like I got to know Vincent more in this film, whereas “Loving Vincent” depicted him as a rather detached stranger since these were accounts of after he died. The sole conclusion was that he was some sort of non-entity and he felt detached from the world.
Finally, I resonate so much with one of Vincent’s last lines, which was, “I wanted so much to share what I see. Now I just think about my relationship with eternity”. To me this means that he sees himself more as part of a continuum of the artists of his time, rather than an independent genius, even though he was the founder of Impressionism.
Likewise, I no longer think of my point of view as something to be forced unto others. Rather, I can only hope to be part of the story I find myself in. After all, what good is a hand that can create if it does not belong to a body, or a gift when I am detached from others?