Well, we should not have been surprised that Vincent Van Gogh presents a challenge to Mike Venezia, because the tragic life of this particular artist does not especially lend itself to the cartoons that Venezia includes in his Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists series. On the one hand we are talking about one of the most famous artists of all time, whose paintings now sell for millions and millions of dollars. But on the other hand we have a man who suffered severe emotional problems, cut off his ear, and ended up committing suicide. To be fair, Van Gogh was the epitome of the starving artist, and while none of the cartoons in the book goes too far, the one on the back of Venezia's self-portrait with a paper-cut is over the line given that this is a book for children.
The strength of the book is that Venezia does one of his best jobs of explaining the unique style of the artist with his look at Van Gogh. It is ironic that in a book where the subject presents such problems, Venezia provides ten cartoons in the book, which might be the most I have seen in any of his volumes to date (there are 22 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh). Certainly the cartoons do not reflect the tone of the text, which deals with Van Gogh's problems in a straight-forward manner. But given the fate of the artist, it is hard to find them totally appropriate. Again, to be fair, this is Venezia's format and we could not expect him to abandon it and perhaps he was trying to provide a counterbalance to Van Gogh's self-destructive impulses. Certainly parents should check this one out and make a judgment for their own children, and teachers should do the same thing for their students. A good alternative text, although written for a slightly older audience, is "What Makes a Van Gogh a Van Gogh" put out by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.