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The Glory of van Gogh: An Anthropology of Admiration [Paperback]

Nathalie Heinich , Paul Leduc Browne


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Book Description

16 Nov 1997

The image of the great artist as a suffering visionary is a recent invention, observes sociologist Nathalie Heinich--an invention rooted in the "canonization" of Vincent van Gogh as a cultural hero for the twentieth century. Heinich explores how and why the impoverished and mentally tormented van Gogh came to be glorified shortly after his suicide at the age of 37. Did the secular art world need a rebel-saint of its own? In considering this possibility, the author explores the history of efforts to celebrate van Gogh, whether in biographies or on T-shirts, showing how the details of his life have been constructed according to the pattern of a Christian saint's rise to recognition. These biographical details circulated first as anecdotes, then as historical truths, and finally became legendary motifs defining individual greatness.

At the time of van Gogh's death, early modernists hailed the work of this self-taught painter as that of a reforming prophet. Public interest stirred when the unique and tragic aspects of the artist's personal life came to light. In these stories, the figure of Van Gogh oscillated between godlike asceticism (he lived on very little, did not get married, did not eat much, and devoted his life to his work) and demonic frenzy (he drank, he went to brothels, and offered a piece of his own flesh, his severed ear, to a prostitute). His legend became one of victim and sacrificer, of an accursed artist who gave the world great paintings but paid the heavy price of society's ignorance.

Heinich organizes her book around the stages that characterize the life of a saint-deviation, renewal, reconciliation, and pilgrimage, the latter culminating in visits to van Gogh's burial site and the competition to buy his paintings or "relics." Heinich explores the economics of the art market and the themes that make up the van Gogh myth, such as the personalization of artistic grandeur, the celebration of the interiority of the creator, and the glorification of abnormality. By examining the mythology that helps drive artistic investment, she forces us to reconsider the nature of admiration and particularly the notion that obscurity during an artist's lifetime is a guarantee of true genius.


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"A deeply learned and provocative analysis. . . . A complex and theoretically ambitious book."--Robin Wagner-Pacifici, Contemporary Sociology

From the Inside Flap

"A beautiful, original, and very provocative book-a model of creative research. Nathalie Heinich makes a very significant contribution to the sociological analysis of artistic value and to the sociology of culture more generally. She propose[s] a critique of genius theory that will strongly shape the way we think about cultural genius."--Michele Lamont, Princeton University

"A beautiful, original, and provocative book--a model of creative research. Nathalie Heinich makes a very significant contribution to the sociological analysis of artistic value and to the sociology of culture more generally. [She] propose[s] a critique of genius theory that will strongly shape the way we think about cultural genius."--Michle Lamont, Princeton University

"With an argument that is both imaginative and forceful, [this book] shows not only how we make our heroes but also why we need them."--Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Columbia University.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THE FIRST article specifically devoted to van Gogh was published several months before his death in 1890 by Albert Aurier. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Written For The True Artist 13 Dec 1999
By Mark Kalich - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A nicely written, well-thought out complex review of the life and work of Van Gogh. Written with a voice and tone of a purist this anthology delves into the social, theological and psychological effect that this man and his work had on the world of art and the world. Appreciated most by those with a strong vocabulary. Well worth it...
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