Perpetuating a myth

They’re at it again – doctors diagnosing Van Gogh’s mind and body. This time it’s the psychiatrists who have taken a crack at him in a 2-day conference last week at The Hague in the Netherlands, concluding that “possibly bi-polar” or a “borderline personality” induced him to take his ear and his life. What’s wrong with that conclusion? Let’s count the ways. Using the word “possibly” in a diagnosis is synonymous with making plans -- weather permitting. It’s not conclusive.

As Van Gogh Museum’s senior researcher Louis van Tilborgh put it, “It's impossible to draw a final conclusion about his illness." Yet, that didn’t stop the museum from mounting its new exhibit "On the Verge of Insanity."

You call this research?

Non-stories like this about Van Gogh’s state of health are legion. This column’s favorite tale came out of Japan in 2011 when Dr. Kazuori Asada identified the cause for the artist’s intense reds and greens in “Night Café” as colorblindness. Clearly Dr. Asada didn’t know what the artist famously said about this painting, that he used those shades to convey the “terrible passions of human nature.”

Doctors have also linked Van Gogh’s signature wavy lines to glaucoma, which is like saying that the artist Max Beckmann distorted his images because maybe macular degeneration warped his vision, ignoring Beckmann’s explanation that he sought to express the horrors he saw as a medical corpsman in WWI.

Stuck in a rut

Meanwhile, back at The Hague and the attempt to explain why Van Gogh destroyed his ear and the rest of him. Given the research done by the Dutch doctors, they need to get out more. In 1990 the Journal of the American Medical Association deemed that the artist suffered from tinnitus, a ringing in the ear and that he performed the self-surgery to stop the ringing. As for the artist’s suicide, again, the Dutch are obviously out of touch.

Van Gogh’s biographers, Steven Naifeh and Gegory White Smith, made it known in 2012 that he didn’t kill himself. Someone else did that.

The shooting occurred in a cornfield where Van Gogh went to paint a mile from his lodging. He was later seen stooped as he was coming back to his room where he crashed with a bullet in his stomach from which he died two days later. The biographers cited a finding from forensic scientist Dr.

Vincent Di Maio, an authority on gunshot wounds, who said the wound was not self-inflicted.

The mad artist myth

But you don’t need a forensic expert to tell you that a homicide was committed. No one shoots himself in the stomach to off himself. The Van Gogh Museum can’t seem to accept that he was victim of a murder. The exhibit title “On the Verge of Insanity” suggests that murder spoils the picture that museum officials paint of him as a long suffering artist. Whatever sells tickets.

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