The Masters | Anguish and Gratitude: Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers with Heart

Vincent Van Gogh. “Three Sunflowers in a Vase.” Oil on Canvas. August, 1888, Arles. United States. Private Collection.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with all the sunflower goodness this week. Sadly, we’re just two more posts away from the end of “Sunflower Month.”

I am clearly intrigued by the approach of the masters to the sunflower. Many of them seem to have been as taken with its luminescent beauty as I am. I am in no way an artist like the masters featured all week, but sunflowers are certainly the most doodled flower in my journals, sketchbooks, and letters.

When I began this final week of “Sunflower Month,” I had intended to do only three posts, but I got a little carried away because there were more than three sunflower masters in my collection. My favorite, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch Post-Impressionist, was always on the list. Let’s consider the “sunflower tree” a bonus post, because this week of masters will not be complete without attention to his still life sunflower series—especially with the final masters post I have in mind. 😉

Vincent Van Gogh. “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers.” Oil on Canvas. August 1888, Arles. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

From 1888-1889, van Gogh completed seven sunflower still life masterpieces in the studio he shared with Paul Gaugin in Arles, France. He had intended to fill the walls with their brilliance before Gaugin’s arrival. The two featured above are in my postcard collection, thanks to Debbie T, my Love Notes pal (Twelve Sunflowers), and Eepy on swap-bot (Three Sunflowers).

There are four others in the Sunflower Series that were completed in 1887 in Paris. One of them–Four Cut Sunflowers (below)– took my breath away the first time I saw it!

Vincent Van Gogh. Allotment with Sunflower, Paris, July 1887. Oil on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

In a letter to his sister Willemien, van Gogh writes:

[…] the desire comes over me to remake myself and try to have myself forgiven for the fact that my paintings are, however, almost a cry of anguish while symbolizing gratitude in the rustic sunflower.  (Letter 856)

Perhaps this tension explains why van Gogh’s “still life” sunflowers are anything but “still.” Each sunflower–in the vases or cut and wilting on a table–is full of personality, life, and movement. Each evokes an emotional response.

I read somewhere that van Gogh wanted to be remembered for his brilliant sunflowers (goal accomplished!) and that people honored his desire by wearing sunflowers to his funeral.

What a radiant sendoff!

Like the Heart

Let me seek You
in the darkness
of my silence

and find You
in the silence
of Your light.

which is
love shining
like the sun

flowing
like a river
and joying

like the heart

Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

The Masters | Claude Monet’s Bouquet of Sunflowers

Claude Monet. Bouquet of Sunflowers. 1881. Oil on Canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All of our “masters” posts thus far have focused on sunflowers growing in their natural spaces, so today we turn to still life with Claude Monet’s (1840-1926) “Bouquet of Sunflowers.” Monet was one of the founders of the Impressionist Movement, and this masterpiece was exhibited at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition. The bouquet was arranged and staged with sunflowers that grew along the path to his garden in Vetheuil (France).

If you do a little Google research you will find comparisons of Monet’s and Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers. Even the greats like Paul Gaugin and Van Gogh himself compared the two–Gaugin favoring Van Gogh’s over Monet’s and Van Gogh “conceding” that Monet’s is the better of the two.

For me, there is no comparison. Each artist brought his gifts to the canvas and presented the sunflower in his own unique and timeless style.

You will know

When God has taken up residence in your heart.
How?
Your spirit will move with swifts and striving,
you won’t be caught just thinking about things.
For this God of ours is not a God of thoughts
so much as a God alive.

Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

#ThursdayTreeLove | The Masters | Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflower Tree with “Room to Grow”

Vincent Van Gogh. Allotment with Sunflower, Paris, July 1887. Oil on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

Of course, I realize this is not a tree, but if a sunflower were a tree—this is what it would look like, towering over us all with all its sunny goodness—maybe with a few more blossoms.

I’d planned a different Vincent van Gogh post for this week, but since today is “tree love” Thursday, I decided to try passing off a sunflower as a tree. This is the type of sunflower that my student Wanéa finds a little scary. No flower should be taller than a human, in her opinion, so for her sake, yes, let’s consider this a tree.

Please enjoy van Gogh’s Allotment with Sunflower with a meditation for the restless soul:

Room to Grow
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

My life is like a page on which
So much is already:

hurts and joys and the tumble
of fears and uncertainties.

What You want of me, God, is
that I clean the slate, emptying

it of all this to make room for
the freedom of nothingness

where alone You, my God,
have room to grow.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

The Masters | Gustav Klimt’s Sunflowers in Gardens

Gustav Klimt. Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen (1905/1906). Belvedere Palace and Museum, Vienna.

What is the purpose of creation?
That everything might simply be. —Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows, from “Lesson I” (Unlearning)

Since we’re on the subject of postcards from Eileen V, I might as well share the two Klimt postcards she sent last year. Eileen keeps me well supplied with sunflowers, so it was with pleasure that she sent and I received–not one but–two sunflower postcards featuring the work of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). Klimt was a Symbolist painter and a founding member of the  Vienna Secession (Art Nouveau) movement.

Despite his extensive portfolio. I am, unsurprisingly, drawn most to his sunflower pieces.

The piece above is entitled Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen  (or Farm Garden with Sunflowers). My camera and I would love to explore such a garden exploding with color.  [Note: I have seen four different dates assigned to this work, so I am not sure of the correct date–1905-1906, 1912, 1913, 1916–but 1905/06 seems more likely].

The second scene, Die Sonnenblume (or The Sunflower), could have been extracted from another part of the garden presented in the first piece–though that is clearly not the case.

Klimt

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), “Die Sonnenblume” (“The Sunflower”), 1906/1907, Private Collection, Vienna

The scan does very little for this postcard. The broad leaves of the sunflower are trimmed in gold and the postcard itself features gilded edges. Unfortunately, the scan rendered them a strange, dark color, which wasn’t visually appealing (so I cropped away the border). Notwithstanding the subpar scan, Her Majesty is pretty impressive.

For a glimpse of the unaltered original, click here: Die Sonnenblume, and for Farm Garden with Sunflowers, click here: Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen [Be sure to click the links above to learn a little about the artist and the works].

Klimt gifted us sunflowers and gardens that serve no other purpose but to live gloriously in their natural state. Their brilliance beckons us and we simply stand in awe.

The Masters | Gustave Caillebotte’s “Sunflowers Along the Seine”

Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte, “Sunflowers Along the Seine,” ca 1885-86, Oil on Canvas, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, from the Estate of Diana Dollar Knowles

I did not plan to post today. However, my hubby dropped by my office and surprised me with a beautiful bunch of sunflowers, so now I’m in a sunny mood! This is in direct opposition to my pre-sunflowers mood—blah, eh, weary.

I will eventually share photos of my office blossoms here, but for now, let’s pause to enjoy a little bit of sunflower heaven–French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte’s (1848-1894) Sunflowers Along the Seine.

My Love Notes friend Eileen V sent this stunning masterpiece to me after we tragically lost my nephew.

Sunflowers Along the Seine by Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894) is a dynamic composition in which a frieze of golden sunflowers dwarfs a view of sparkling water with a floating, white pavilion moored at the riverbank in the background. […] The flowers, which feature prominently in this depiction, and the lively color palette Caillebotte used for this subject, suggest his passion for the garden that he cultivated there. The artist often used his garden for painting en plein air to capture the effects of radiant daylight, which are conveyed here in rhythmic brushwork across the water’s surface. —Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Sunflowers have this way of seeming almost human in their interactions. Look closely and you will see sunflowers gazing across the Seine and others in conversation–some gossiping, some in deep, meaningful dialogue.

Pretty amazing artwork, right? But they still can’t take the place of beholding these beauties in real life.

Now, as promised, a little soul work with Meister Eckhart:

Nothing of My Deeds
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

When I am in the wrong mind
I presume that You desire my goodness,
but when my mind turns aright
I find that You want nothing of my deeds
and everything of my heart.


Note: You can see a couple of pics of my pretty sunnies by clicking the link in the first sentence or by checking out my IG page. 🙂

Sunflowers and Truth | Hard, Hard Truth

“Birthday Sunflowers” by Christine B.

Today’s truth comes from Grounded Spirituality by author and teacher, Jeff Brown. The short version: Take care of you. Do the work to “deal with your stuff.” It’s hard. It’s continual, but it’s worth it. Your past will no longer control your attitudes or behavior. 

Sunflower by Christine Brooks
“Sunflower Pair” by Christine B.

It’s up to you–it’s always up to you. You can deny, repress, distort, and bury your unresolved wounds all you want. You can reframe them, pseudo-positivity them, detach from them, bypass them. You can rename yourself, hide away in a monastery, turn your story around.  And you can spend all your money on superficial healing practices and hocus-pocus practitioners. But it won’t mean a [darn] thing if you don’t do the deeper work to excavate and heal your primary wounds. The material is still there, right where you left it, subconsciously ruling your life and controlling your choices. This is the nature of unhealed material–it is alive, and one way or the other, it will manifest itself in your lived experience. It will language your inner negative. It will obstruct your path and limit your possibilities. It lives everywhere that you live. And so you have to decide–excavate it and bring it into consciousness where it can be worked through an integrated; or repress it and watch it rule your life. It’s one of the hardest truths we have to face: if we don’t deal with our stuff, it deals with us. There is no way around this. Choose.

–Jeff Brown, Grounded Spirituality
Sunflower by Sheila Delgado
“Sunflower Trio” by Sheila D.

About the Images: The hard pill of today’s post deserves three cheerful sunflower watercolors. The sunflowers are brought to you by my friend and Love Noter, Christine B. She sent the top watercolor  with two more beautiful pieces of art for my birthday (10.02). She sent the other two earlier this year–just because. The final piece is a regifted watercolor, the work of my friend, Sheila D. I’m sending love, light, and many hugs to Christine as she prepares to memorialize her mom next week. [If you’re reading on a mobile device or tablet, click the images to view full images in Flickr].

Sunflowers and Truth | #truthbombs

Martha Slavin Sunflower

Are you familiar with Danielle LaPorte’s #truthbombs? On 4×4 white cards–in beautiful black script–LaPorte offers pithy bits of wisdom, encouragement, and in-your-face truth. Every now and then, I pull a random card out the elegant encasement, and think, “Whew! Now, that’s a word!” The cards offer perfect journaling prompts and discussion starters. [Click the link above for more information, see sample #truthbombs, and download the app. For the record, this is not an ad]. 

Before heading to work yesterday, I grabbed a handful of random #truthbombs from their box and dropped them on my bag. I thought they would complement the sunflowers I’d planned to share on the blog, but yesterday did not turn out as I planned: By 9:00 a.m., I was annoyed with no less than three people. By 10:00, the number had increased to five. By 1:00, I had a searing headache that made me want to pack up and go home. When I finally arrived home just after 5:00, I wanted only my bed and a good book. When today began to feel like yesterday, a couple of short walks and three of the #truthbombs became the medicine I needed:

  • Notice how you feel
  • Defend your tenderness
  • Compassion is so often the solution

Those three sentences “can preach,” as they say. For me, they were a call to pay attention to my responses.

Yesterday, I was extremely disturbed by individuals who acted selfishly and lacked compassion. When it comes down to it, this was no different than any other day. Almost every day I encounter people who look out for themselves and show little regard for others unless they can benefit in some way. Of course, by the end of the day, I’d pretty much gotten over it and pushed the experience out of my mind. I realized I had to cut those folk some slack. They are human after all, and like me, they deserve room to be just that–human–and perhaps there were good reasons for what I considered their not acting with the decency I expected under the circumstances. 

But I was still bothered by my own reaction: Why was my response so different? Why did I allow myself to become so uncharacteristically entangled with other individuals’ attitudes and behavior? And why am I again feeling out of sorts and bothered?

Annoying people, gloomy weather, frustration over lecture notes I can’t find. All of that is superficial, the easy things to focus on because the real thing–the underlying thing–is big and scary and too much to handle at the beginning of a packed work week. The #truthbombs were a reminder to pay attention to my feelings and not just stop there. I had to get to the root. And I did.

I miss my sister. Her birthday is tomorrow. There will be no celebration. 

Thankfully, the sunflower provides light…in the darkness of the cave in which I have to dwell for a moment. 


About the Image: The watercolor sunflower is the work of my Love Notes friend, Martha S. She was one of my exchange partners in Louise Gale’s Global heART exchange. It was a pleasant surprise to find a postcard from one of my snail mail regulars in my mailbox. Thanks for this gorg sunflower, Martha! It has brightened my days and will soon find its place my the sunflower wall. 

Four Promises and a Gift

Tyhara Rain

“Tranquility” by Tyhara Rain

Yesterday, a friend dropped by to bring me a gift. Her gift and note became the impetus for the theme of this week’s blog posts—the gift. I will share some details of her gift later this week, but today, I’m sharing most of a blog post I wrote four years ago. I realized as I was thinking about today’s post that I wrote the post before…pretty much.

Instead of “reblogging” the post, I’m giving you the salient points and a little artsy goodness.

In order to see God’s vision for your life and become part of God’s story, there are four promises you must claim:

  1. You have a gift only you can give.

  2. Someone has a need only you can meet, only you can heal—no matter how inadequate you feel.

  3. Joy is the journey where the gift and the need collide. God’s path for your life is a collision course. The intersection where your gift crashes into the world’s need is where you will truly begin to live.

  4. Your journey to give your gift will break you…but it will also make you.  –[from Better Than You Can Imagine: God’s Calling, Your Adventure by Patrick Quinn, emphasis mine]

The excerpt from Better Than You Can Imagine unveils a principle I embrace. If we are to create change in the world then we have to find the gift someone needs—the world needs—that only we can give. We don’t just wake up one morning and decide what we’re going to give. We decide to accept and share the gift, but discovering this gift is a journey—not a decision.

Imagine how much collective change we can create if all individuals would take the journey to find that one thing and exercise it. We would literally change the world! As we partner with God on finding this “great need,” our lives are transformed from the inside out and we experience the “symbiotic” nature of change: the world opens up and reveals to us what it needs and we open up and provide.

Far too often we get caught up in the idea of making a name for ourselves or doing something grand when what seems smallest can make a huge impact on someone’s life and ultimately in the world.

Tyhara Rain

“Turbulence” by Tyhara Rain

A long time ago, I read “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” a poem by Robert Browning, which celebrates the grammarian’s lifelong dedication to Greek language study and his discovery of the articles. While he lived, his colleagues criticized his “wasting his life” and his brilliant mind on such trifles. For them his work was menial, but, though they seem a small contribution, the articles—a, an, and the—are so essential to our languages.

Like the grammarian, we must be keenly focused on finding our part and then doing it. In doing our “small” part, we change the whole.

I encourage you, if you have not already done so, take the journey to find your unique gift. In affecting even one person’s life, you’re doing your part to change the entire world.


About the Image: The artwork above is the work of one my students, Tyhara Rain. They are two of three companion pieces she gave to me as a parting gift when COVID-19 forced campus to shut down during her final semester of college and abruptly ended our long chats about art, literature, and life. :-/ We are still in touch, and I am glad she left so many precious gifts from the heart.  [Note: the scans do very little justice to these paintings].

Dream Week | Dream Journal

DreamArt-1

Dreams are thoughts you didn’t have time to think about during the day.

My dreams have been unusually vivid lately—full of color and sound, strange and derivative, a compilation of memories and random bits of information and events. There have been recurring themes, patterns, and people.

While going through my morning routine the last few days, I noticed that a number of troubling questions and past events kept popping up. Each day, I pushed them aside, thinking, I will deal with it later.

Of course, later rarely comes, so I wonder if much of the processing that should happen while I am awake is happening while I sleep.

If I look really closely, I can see there is a correlation between my dreams and those deep questions with which I have had little time to grapple.

I am not into dream analysis, that is, looking for symbols in dreams and attaching meaning to them, but I do believe dreams can be revelatory. I believe God speaks to us in different ways, and dreams are one of those ways. I also believe dreams often reveal what is buried in our subconscious and can compel us to pay attention and maybe act.

So–I’m thinking about starting a dream journal, a place that I can record the bits and pieces of my dreams I remember and see if I can make some sense of them or if I can tease out those things that Spirit and my subconscious are trying to tell me. I’d like to see what shows up.

I’ve never “dream journaled” before, but I imagine it is telling experience.

What about you? Have you ever kept a dream journal?

Dream Week | The Rock

Dream-1

Last week, in the middle of the agonizing, true-to-its reputation Monday morning, I dropped by the Associate Registrar’s office to get clarification on a particular policy. While there, I noticed the cutest tiny Zen garden. I was drawn to the sand and calming turquoise, but I fixated on the rock that held the word “dream.” An hour or so later, I sent my friend Cy a text telling her I needed to take a mental break and write a blog post, but I hadn’t decided on a theme for the week. She suggested that I do a Dream Week. Her suggestion confirmed what the “dream rock” was trying to tell me, so here we are—a week later—hosting “Dream Week” on Pics and Posts. 

If you had asked me about my dreams a couple of years ago, I might have told you I have none–if I were being honest. I came to this realization early one morning while reflecting on a statement from Howard Thurman’s “The Inward Sea,” the first section of Meditations of the Heart:

Keep alive the dream; for as long as a [wo]man has a dream in his [her] heart, [s]he cannot lose the significance of living.

I asked myself, “What are my dreams?”

Crickets.

Nothing stirred inside, and I felt like a hollow vessel.

I thought, “Have I achieved so much in life? Am I so perfectly content that there’s no need for dreams? Or have I fallen so far down the “well of despair” that I could no longer muster up the courage to dream?” 

I could have psyched myself into believing that I had no dreams per se because I’d worked my dreams into plans and plans into action. But I knew that would be cute, but not true.

I was troubled. I once had deep, colorful, audacious dreams. Where were those dreams?

The question unsettled me; for I knew without dreams I was merely existing, and that was not enough living for me. 

Then, the more critical question emerged. Why had I stopped dreaming? After I took the time to soul-search, I arrived at the answers:

I had stopped dreaming because I was afraid to dream. I had stop dreaming because I was grieving loss after loss after loss, and while I had to function on all fronts in my outer life, in the inner life I could lay it all down and no one would know. I had stopped dreaming because I was wounded and “stretched out” while I processed the blows that took me down. I had stopped dreaming because there were too many disappointments and too many devastating realities.

I had stopped dreaming so I could pour all my energy into surviving. 

It took some doing—an additional year or so of soul work—for me to trust life enough to really dream again and to know that my dreams can be as boundless and wild as my imagination allows. 

I don’t have any solid plans for this Dream Week, but that’s the nature of dreams. Join me, and let’s see where the dreams take us.