Exhibition of politics through Love and Art

Looking into the complex relationship patterns marked by jockey for power and its manifestation through art


Cherryl Pereira, Writer

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The coexistence of love and art is very intimate and personal. Loving involves exposing one’s insecurities, fears, and desires to another person whom one makes special. Art becomes an outcome of such an emotional bond. It consists of a heavy sentimental value since the source of both art and love is usually the same. However, the manifestation of love through art also implies the influence or power a person has had on another that has now been exhibited through the finest of their works. To explore the idea further, let’s dive into two homosexual relationships of artists who have been renowned for their work as much as for their relationships in that era.

The first relationship we are looking at is that of two French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine who have contributed immensely to the literary world through their poetic styles. The dynamic of their relationship was quite toxic because Verlaine was an absinthe addict with a Saturnian temperament while Rimbaud was a free-spirited young man. The relationship was marked by several instances of violence and finally a split because Verlaine attempted to shoot Rimbaud to death. Though Rimbaud refused to press charges against Verlaine, he was either way sent to prison for homosexuality and infidelity for almost two years. Verlaine not only shot the flesh of Rimbaud but also killed the poet in him. Post this incident, Rimbaud traveled to distant parts of Africa and never wrote poetry again.

Another relationship worth examining is that of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Both of them were painters by profession. Van Gogh is known for his hysterical episodes and ill mental condition whose paintings mainly comprised peculiar brush strokes that evoked distressing emotions. However, these saw a bright turn as he became good friends with Gauguin and moved to Arles. Van Gogh had been insisting Gauguin to meet him in Arles for a long time. After their initial meet, both the artists enjoyed each other’s company, painted together, and even lived in for about 2 months. Anyway, things went downhill with a heated argument between the two when Van Gogh refused to let Gauguin return to Paris. When Gauguin left without paying heed, Van Gogh cut his ear and offered it to a prostitute. It was later found that the painter was also sick of Schizophrenia. During their stay together, the influence of each other’s painting styles was very evident.

The art, which is sourced from the artist, demonstrates many of these personal waves. For instance, Verlaine wrote poems that were extremely tender and musical. Though this is quite opposite to his original temperament, they do not escape the Saturniantouch. Similarly, Van Gogh, as mentioned before, used a lot of dull colors for his paintings to evoke fear and distress. His strokes were highly peculiar in his paintings such as ‘The Starry Night’ and ‘Wheatfield With Crows’ demonstrating his mental distress to a great extent. Van Gogh committed suicide in the same wheatfield that he painted which was located right outside his asylum. He also engaged in painting a self-portrait after cutting off his ear. A blog on Widewalls describes that the important aspect of the relationship between arts and politics is its connectedness through different epochs. This does not limit to the personal depiction of the artist but transcends through the dimensional interpretations of the readers and viewers. That is the power of art to possess shades of analysis. For instance, if there is an intentional underlying tone to a poem or if there’s an emotional depiction in a painting, the readers and viewers are likely to analyze it not only in terms of the personal life of the artist but also the contemporary social events then. Therefore, there is a capitalist integration of art adding increasing value to the artifacts as well as its owner.

Tracing the common grounds between both the relationships, we observe that both the affairs comprise of violence, toxic coping mechanisms, homosexuality, and emotional instability in one of the partners. A significant impact of their relationships is reflected on their respective art. For illustration, Rimbaud’s poems have seen a subtle influence of Verlaine which was marked by unique tenderness and musicality. As a matter of fact, the seamless limelight that Rimbaud’s poetry received was due to the grace of Verlaine. This accentuated the power dynamic of their relationship. On the other hand, in Verlaine’s poem ‘Chanson D’Automne’ one could trace the emotions of heartache due to the split with Rimbaud and persistent sadness due to his Saturnian temperament. In the collection of his poems ‘Sagesse’ that he wrote in prison has a ton of regret for all his unethical actions. Similarly, for Van Gogh, his trait style of art consisted of peculiar circular strokes which were not only artistic but also reflected his mental instability. He rarely utilized bright colors for his paintings or painted using memory. However, he incorporated more of these characteristic techniques of Gauguin while they painted together in Arles. Gauguin’s style also incorporated more thin strokes like Van Gogh. He also utilized more ochre in his paintings.

The emotionally unstable partners, Verlaine and Van Gogh respectively, have constantly portrayed more power in these relationships. We see these through the instances of violences mentioned above. Moreover, Verlaine was an obsessive care-taker of Rimbaud introducing an authoritarian aspect to their relationship. As for Van Gogh, his life is an example of his psychological descent. Thus, Gauguin had to put up with all of his episodes such as the one where Van Gogh was high on absinthe and flung a glass at Gauguin’s head. Van Gogh has also attempted to attack Gauguin with a razor. What we observe is, such mental instability in both of these relationships has resulted in the subjugation of the other partners Rimbaud and Gauguin respectively. There is also a jockey for power from both the parties. For instance, Rimbaud pierced a knife through Verlaine’s palm to give him a taste of his violence. As for Gauguin, he was so drained by Van Gogh’s constant acts of violence that he wished to call quits taking a stand for himself against the will of Van Gogh.

Predominantly, the pattern evokes that the mentally unstable demand more dominance and lesser subjugation in the relationship. This generated an environment of suppression for the opposite person. As toxic as it already sounds, violence is used as a watch-dog to maintain this power imbalance; either as a threat or as an action. Hence, mental instability is potentially political in relationships because the submissive partner is likely to empathize with their toxic partner like Rimbaud who kept up with Verlaine for a long time until he was shot or like Gauguin who kept up with Van Gogh’s hysterical episodes in public and private till he witnessed something traumatic. Their love for their partner justified these acts of injustice under the name of tolerance unless it triggered a major stressor for themselves. To conclude, power, love, and art are intertwined and inseparable aspects of one another. However, the imbalance between the three factors results in complex relationship patterns.


Cherryl is a third-year Psychology student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. She is passionate about music and mental health.

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