The Desperate Man

My dear friend Ms. Golden shared with me a game she played to pass the time with her colleagues at a work event. There may have been some alcohol imbibing and a handful of edibles in the mix. I’m sure it was fun. They asked each other various hypothetical questions, things like if you were a character from a television show, what character would you be? I want to be Mulder.

I don’t care what Drew thinks, aliens are fucking real, dude.

No one asked me what painting I was, but I had an answer anyway.

Gustave Courbet, a French realist, and self proclaimed “proudest and most arrogant man in France” painted this self portrait between 1843-45. Gustave was punk rock, he rejected societal norms and harbored contempt for the bourgeois, and resented the pretentious standard by which the powers that be in the Parisian art world dictated what art should be. Gustave passed on art school, instead he was mostly self taught and trained by painting and studying other artists, either in their studios or by making copies of his favorite paintings at the Louvre. It took years for the Salon, the official exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, to exhibit his work. Fuck that, He said, or rather, putain ça, and did things the way he wanted. A renegade who stuck to his principles, a heavy drinker married to art, who died in a self imposed exile in Switzerland on December 31, 1877.

Historians would revere his work such as The Stone Breakers (1849), A Burial At Ornans (1850), The Bathers (1853), The Wounded Man (1854) and acknowledge him a leader of the Realist movement and the impact he had on the modernism that followed.

While Gustave laid a foundation for impressionism, some of his early works such as The Desperate Man, have a hint of romanticism while unveiling a self portrait that was rooted in emotion. Realism was about true to life depictions. Gustave kept it real, son. This painting is a snapshot in time, an anxious confession, and a study of his own vulnerability. That is exactly what makes me feel connected to it.

What painting would I be? It’s a no brainer for me. It’s the feeling that draws me. I often feel how Gustave looked. Frenzied, tense and in a state of panic. I don’t know precisely the root cause but my anxiety lately has really upped its game, no amount of therapy or deep breaths make me feel any better, at least not for any lengthy period of time. I’m sure it’s the sum of all its parts. Parenthood. Catholic guilt. Politics. Any type of social gathering. Work and every other daily stressor that worms it way into my badly wired brain. I find it mildly funny that there are people who would be shocked to hear this. On the outside to some I appear fine but internally I’m freaking the fuck out. I also think I’m smiling when I take a photograph only to come off looking like a serial killer. Completely mental.

The look on Gustave’s face is exactly how my face looked watching the series finale of House Of The Dragon, and also how I look anytime I have to draw blood. You can add trypanophobia to the list.

What painting are you?

6 responses to “The Desperate Man”

  1. “Fields” by Van Gogh sits above my desk as a reminder that our labor can be beautiful if we do it mindfully. Thanks for asking, SG.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like that. Thank you for reading and sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Praise” by Agnes Martin. Vertical, interior, red, but quiet about it, happy, in solitude but not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cool. Interesting selection.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a Norman Rockwell painting. I’m afraid in real life I’m rather ordinary.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nothing wrong with that at all.

      Liked by 1 person

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