Van Gogh 's Role As A Social Critic Essay

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When most people first hear the name Van Gogh, they think of the Van Gogh portrayed by popular culture – brilliant, tormented, and driven to insanity by his artistic dedication. Yet this portrayal of Van Gogh fails to acknowledge his role as a social critic – a critic considerably influenced by his socioeconomic circumstances. Even modern-day art historians, those people deemed most likely to consider Van Gogh from every possible viewpoint, often reject this facet of the artist. They instead attribute his creative genius to either his desire to participate in the era’s leading artistic movements or his inherent mental instability. While art historian Griselda Pollock, for example, calls Van Gogh’s first major work The Potato Eaters (1885) a statement on industrialism, she later notes how its “failure […] began [Van Gogh’s] retreat […away] from a modernism situated in the contemporary social domain of either town or country […and] into the exotic, the fantastic, the abstract, and the irrational” (410). Here, Pollock uses the unpopularity of Van Gogh’s first work to explain why Van Gogh moved away from providing social commentary and towards joining artistic movements and “selected subcultures” (410) that concentrated more on the abstract. An in-depth analysis of Van Gogh’s 1888 painting The Night Café, however, suggests that Van Gogh never stopped commenting on the socioeconomic issues prevalent during his time. If anything, he expanded his tradition of socioeconomic…

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