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Van Gogh’s Dark Illuminations: The End of Art or The Art of the End

Excerpt from “Van Gogh’s Dark Illuminations: The End of Art or The Art of the End” in Van Gogh among Philosophers: Painting, Thinking, Being, ed. David P. Nichols, Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.


  • “A Pair of Shoes emerges in its iconic dimension: it is an icon, an artificial image, whose natural image is invisible, uncircumscribable, or nothing. It is a holy or false relic—whether of Van Gogh himself, or of the peasant woman venerated and canonized by Van Gogh’s artistic devotion. Like a shroud of Turin, it points toward the absent, the dead, and in doing that, paradoxically becomes a proof of life eternal.”

  • “Van Gogh’s automutilation constitutes the final act of his ongoing self-sacrifice transmogrified into his art and life without remainder. Thus both Promethean and Christian, Van Gogh’s kenotic sacrifice has fired up our consciousness. The Christian ground of his intended kenosis opened up towards a deeper and more encompassing concept of God, one that was adumbrated in Schelling’s divine nought, Heidegger’s more originary beginning, Altizer’s death of God, a God of an apocalyptic theology of end times. His art enacts this other theology. The end of art as representation does not mean the end of art tout court, rather the end of a modern vision of the self and God and the plunge into the tohu bohu of a new world.”

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