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Monday, June 17, 2013

Did the Doctor Kill van Gogh?

I watched a Matt Smith episode of Doctor Who in which we meet Vincent van Gogh. There comes a point in which van Gogh gets to see a Paris museum full of his work. And he gets to hear what someone in the future thinks of him, specifically the exhibit curator. The doctor's companion expects there to be more paintings, that perhaps he found enough happiness to not kill himself.

Traveling in time changed very little for him. Knowing the future, knowing his value changed nothing. van Gogh still dies. He still commits suicide. Some things did change. Subtle things that most of the rest of the world would never notice...

And I ask myself a question or several.

Could that visit with the doctor have been what made him do it in the first place? Yes I realize this is all a fictional account, an entertainment. But as an artist at the crux of a conundrum in which time branches into many possible futures, would I want to know how my art is received?

My immediate reaction to the Doctor taking van Gogh forward was "How Cool is That?" Really how wonderful would it be to have encouragement like that? There are so many moments of self doubt. You wonder if you are serving your art for a purpose or if it is sucking the life out of you. You wonder if there is ever going to be a time when it is worth it. And there are times, even before there were a bunch of episodes about visiting with famous people, you wish you could go to the future and show everyone that your life will turn out fine.

The problem is, you would need the Doctor to know that. Or you would need to have a T.A.R.D.I.S of your own to show them the future turns out just fine. But what are the odds that I will ever have a body of work as significant to the art world as van Gogh's? Still it would be nice to know that sticking with art is the right choice.

But what if I could go forward and it turned out that I was not an artist? What if in my whole life I could never sell anything? What if the future showed me that it would be a good time to pack it in? And then that begs the question, is money all that matters? And then I ask myself, how other than money do you find the future person to tell you what your art means to someone outside of yourself? Is there even a quantifier for that, one that you would believe if it were shown you?

Would I believe it? Or would that thing inside my head that always tells me that there is no point in what I do other than my own satisfaction and the use of cheap therapy tell me that no ones opinion matters because they are just being nice?

How did knowing that millions of people enjoy his work for hundreds of years not matter to him? How could depression win? Because the success of a body of work is not the thing. Depression wins most of the time. People's opinions do not matter. It is the conversation in an artist's head that matters. I don't know that the Doctor thought it would make a difference. Amy thought so. But I know better. What is in our heads wins.

So I guess maybe I would not want to know how people feel. And I am not sure that I would want to meet the people whom I admire if I could travel in time.

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