Vincent Van Gogh: Rebel Improv Sci-Fi Artist

The teachers, the rail workers, and the junior doctors of the NHS are all on strike this week. On the way to the National Gallery, there were large protests in the streets. The lines of people participating in them went on for hours. It culminated in a large crowd in Trafalgar Square, where the speakers were passionately advocating for better wages and to invest in people instead of war. We had talked to a few locals about it all and though it seemed massive to us, they sort of shrugged it off. “Happens now and again,” one person said. But everyone we talked to agreed with the sentiment that things are not sustainable as they are. Which I think we all feel. It’s interesting it’s a global feeling.

The National Gallery was clean and free and organized, much like the city. London is clean. It’s accessible. It’s made for people not cars. It cares about sustainability. Public transit is safe and, well, exists. Art is supported, celebrated, and proliferated. London seems to have this wild notion of trusting and supporting the general public rather than treating them like criminals who are temporarily innocent. I like that feeling. 

We were able to see works by Van Gogh, Monet, Davinci, Reuben, and many others. It was an a great bang for our buck as far as how many incredible works they have in one spot and also cause FREE.

We decided that the key to a great museum experience is going with someone you are museum compatible with. Like being drift compatible in Pacific Rim but instead of piloting giant robots together you’re enjoying fine art together. Turns out I’m Museum compatible with a genius lawyer with a classics degree who’s well versed in Latin and history. Is it me or did it just get hot in this century’s old museum filled with smelly tourists?

As I’ve mentioned before too many times, I was in a play called Vincent in Brixton that Chris directed. It explores the two years Vincent Van Gogh spent in South London. Specifically how he came to London as someone studying clergy and left a painter, and what may have happened during those two years. Spoiler alert: love and depression! 

Chris first saw it in London in 2008 I believe. It was supposedly Emily Blunt’s breakout role. Our show started in Utah, then went on to travel to Los Angeles, and then ended up gaining Kennedy Center honors for our cast, designers, and directing for Chris.

Speaking of the D word, while doing that show with Chris, a scary thing happened in my life. I woke up one day and it was like someone had drained the color out of the world. I was struggling to experience joy at all and the mental up and downs I had come to live with in my life were only staying in the down. After a whopping five question worksheet and a short conversation with a doctor I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and suddenly had a prescription for antidepressants in my hand. I stopped and asked the Doctor something like, “Wait, can I ask you some questions about all this?” He seemed uncomfortable and pointed me down the hall to a resident therapist. Thank god for that therapist. 

And thank god for Chris. During Vincent in Brixton he supported me and we connected on different mental and spiritual struggles we’d had in our lives. Our friendship deepened, and suddenly this play about a depressed clergyman turned artist had monumental resonance in both our lives. 

Right before Vincent in Brixton, I enrolled in my last class in college: Art History. After three years of what felt like living in rehearsals for my theater degree, I wanted to sit my ass in a desk, not have to get up in front of people AT ALL and have someone lecture me about something interesting. I also hate when people use art to make people feel dumb and would need more knowledge to fight the elitists.

I immediately took to Impressionists. After the renaissance they were mixing up styles and doing things different. I liked their ethos of capturing an “impression” in the moment. They let the limitation of a duration of time guide and infuse their work. Which is something I enjoy about working in TV. I liked that when the Salons and galleries of the time were rejecting their work for being too different, they made their own Salons and galleries and changed the whole distribution system. I also like that they were unafraid of using new technologies to accomplish their work. So basically, they were rebel improv sci-fi painters. Which just happens to be everything I love. And Rebel Improv Sci-Fi Painter now needs to be my Zoom Room screen name at work.

I thought about all of this while looking at Monet’s The GareSaint-Lazar: Arrival of a Train (one of my favorites) and Van Gogh’s Wheat Field. I thought about how the Impressionists were the people Vincent chose to pal around with. The people he chose to develop his skills with and learn from. Monet was the person he was drawn to learn from… a rebel improv sci-fi artist. Van Gogh clearly saw the world in a different way, with a different mind, for better or worse. And after a little bit of time I’ve spent learning about his life, largely thanks to Chris, I think perhaps his transformation to being a great artist had to do with embracing that instead of fighting it. That’s not easy, and we all need people around us to help us do that. Today I was reinvigorated to do more of that for myself, and more of that for others. Like a rebel improv sci-fi artist.