I confess I am not an artist, but it doesn’t mean that I cannot experience a love of the aesthetic. And I find such importance and value in exploring these perspectives because it helps me to recover and experience the beauty that is ever present in our lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s through poetry, wine tasting, bird watching or photography—there are so many ways to experience, to zoom in, and elaborate on these small elements of life which add so much fullness to our humanity.
Recently I visited the Hague, Netherlands and took advantage of visiting the Van Gogh Museum before jumping on my plane back to Laos. There was a whole exhibition dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh’s obsessive study into Japanese prints and how he took those elements into his own style of art. I had never really thought much about the subject and composition of works. Truly, I had always thought it was VanGogh’s brush strokes that had defined him as an artist. But as he produced a painting a day, he worked diligently to incorporate this style into his own. And when you looked at Japenese prints and then turned your eye to VanGogh’s work, you could catch a glimpse of how he had achieved a “Japanese Way of Looking” in his portraits of the people and places within the south of France. However, what struck me the most was how strongly he felt that the Arles, France was “just like Japan” because of the light and color of the landscapes he saw there. He had only explored Japan through those prints–he had never heard its language, seen Mt. Fuji or tasted sushi– so I was so deeply amazed that he had made that strong connection just thinking about light and color depicted in those prints. VanGogh, in my mind, definitely had a unique way of seeing the world.
And it was this idea that I connected to the most and made me question whether I, in all my travels, had truly appreciated the perspectives and features of the places that I had been too. Yes, of course, I had “assimilated” the culture in the places I had lived abroad but had I truly appreciated them and studied them in the way like VanGogh did. As an expat, I had simply lived among the culture rather than steeped myself in, floating at the top of its surface, trying to maintain the integrity of my home culture rather than allowing my eyes to completely view a different context of life.
As I bring my first year of life in Laos to a close, it makes me deeply reflect how I might integrate VanGogh’s determination to view life through another lens. In the past, I had pursued awe but it has always been around me. It’s not trying to evade me. It is just my sight that needs to shift. It is as if my camera’s lens has been out of focus and if I turn my attention towards something connective like Van Gogh’s “light and color”, perhaps life can be less blurred from the “could haves” and “should haves” that blind me, seeing, not only people and nature in a whole new way, but the circumstances in life.
What a wonderful experiment this can be.