If you've read this blog at all this fall, you know I became obsessed with the tortured artist brilliance that is Van Gogh as I read Irving Stone's Lust for Life.
The one quote that spun me right round, as it were, was:
"If I had painted just one canvas like this, Vincent, I would consider my life justified. I spent the years curing people's pain but they died in the end, anyway, so what did it matter? These sunflowers of yours, they will cure the pain in people's hearts , they will bring people joy, for centuries and centuries--that's why your life is successful, that is why you should be a happy man."
Just one? Sometimes I ponder this. Really, just ONE canvas(/play/book/movie/work of art of some sort) could leave a mark on the world and justify a life? The thought cries out for a skeptical response. And everyone knows that Vincent painted more than one centuries-of-joy canvas, in the end.
But recently, I read a book called The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Mean the Most to Them edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen. And no, it's not the "one canvas" to which I refer, but I was struck by a few things in reading this book. One thing was the variety of books selected--everything from children's poetry to Sherlock Holmes to the Bible. Another was the adoration that poured out for The Catcher in the Rye. I basically consider that book the most overrated book of the twentieth century. I read it, it's fine, it's good even, but good god, the fuss! That's my take on it. I am aware that it affected my parents' generation differently. Another thing that struck me was while some of my favorite writers were going ga-ga over Catcher..., writers I've snubbed persistently, such as Patricia Cornwell and others relegated to the "Genre Fiction" shelves, had quite impressive and deep thoughts and made interesting choices that made me want to read their work, even though I usually avoid mystery/romance/science fiction/fantasy.
But finally, and here's the part about the "one canvas" -- I was struck by the fact that multiple writers chose To Kill a Mockingbird. Now, you talk about your just one canvases. Ms. Harper Lee writes this brilliant work and then up and disappears. And it has wrought untold effects! I could totally understand why it would be THE book someone remembers. The very essays about it in this collection made me emotional, remembering my experiences with Mockingbird.
I might add that the film lives up to the book--and that one of recluse Harper Lee's rare emergences was at the request of Gregory Peck's widow to receive an award in 2005 at a literacy charity dinner, award presented by Brock Peters who played the man falsely accused of rape. So, the book and the movie acknowledge each other's truth. There is just so much going on in that story. It is moving, sweet, strong, beautiful, political, compelling, easy-to-read, profound, and a million other things. If you haven't read it -- I just don't know what to tell you other than you seriously should go do that right now.
I would say it proves Irving Stone/Dr. Gachet's point: just one canvas, Vincent, can justify a life.