There is no blue without yellow and without orange.
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I know. That’s a little like saying, “You know what *I* like? CHEESE. On my PIZZA!” Mind blown, right? He’s van Gogh for heaven’s sake. His work is so ingrained in our culture, so ubiquitous, we almost take it for granted. His most famous work is on mugs and neckties, notecards and mouse pads, and on the walls of dorm rooms everywhere.
What many people do not know is Vincent was also a beautiful writer. Not a professional writer- but it could be argued he wasn’t a professional painter either. He only sold one painting in his lifetime, and it was to the sister of a friend. Luckily, the legacies of both his painting and his writing have been preserved- the writing, most notably in his correspondence with his beloved brother, Theo.
He is one of my favorite artists to teach. Children respond to his work with such purity. They look at Starry Night, and they SEE him- sadly, in a way he probably never felt seen during his all too brief life. I usually teach van Gogh as a color lesson because he understood color in such a simple way. That’s not a bad thing.
One lesson I loved was on complementary colors. Complementary colors are colors- one primary and one secondary- that when placed in proximity to one another, make each other brighter, more vibrant. If you take a primary color, and look directly across the color wheel there will be a secondary color that is its complement. Vincent van Gogh’s work is resplendent in its use of complementary colors. Reds and greens. Purples and yellows. Blues and oranges. Bigger, better, more glorious colors for having been near their, what I used to call in my lessons, color buddies. Don’t you have friends like that? Not just people you like, but friends who enhance you in some way? Who intensify and distill your best qualities? Those individuals who help you to be the best version of yourself? I do. I have friends who push me, or inspire me. I am brighter in their presence. My friends are a diverse group, and I truly love who they are, and who I am when I am with them. When the ceaseless chatter of the outside world gets in my head, my friends help me to remember who I really am, and who I aspire to be.
My friend Angela is the most spiritual person I have ever met. Her relationship with God takes my breath away. When I attend church with her, I crack wide open in a way that is a struggle for me when she’s not around. She has the faith of a child, in the very best conceivable way. She’d also help me bury a body if I needed her to. I know this for a fact. She’s offered. My friend Kate reminds me, by example, to make time for my art. My friend Kristina- easily one of the smartest people I have ever met- challenges me intellectually. My friend Bonnie is the hardest working person I know. Her perseverance as a single mother makes me almost believe I can pull it off.
My friend Jen reminds me that I am a survivor. My friend Lisa has served both as inspiration and encouragement in my writing. The way my friend Juleen is with her children makes me want to be a better mother. My friend Jaime reminds me I need to get really pissed off from time to time about the state of things, and then DO SOMETHING about it.
My friend Jim has one of my very favorite qualities in a person- he’s curious. When he doesn’t know something, he seeks. He learns. He encourages me to do the same by his example.
My sisters… Oh. My sisters. I feel the brightest and most me when I am with them. All of these precious friends are orange to my blue. And we all have friends who do the opposite, yes? Who wash us out, who drain away our light. People who begrudge, or belittle. Who incite us to live small. Who encourage the snark, and dim our sparkle. It’s funny, if you look at van Gogh’s early work, his use of color is really muddy. Part of that was intentional- he was depicting hardship and strife. He’d just come off a short lived stint as a preacher, his heart was on fire for the underprivileged, and he was making a statement about their lives- I get it. But the palette was a real bummer. I have friends who make me feel muddy, too. Fewer and fewer, because as I get older I have less patience for that particular brand of nonsense- but, still. I understand, I think we all do, that to truly appreciate the good times, we all need a little struggle. We’ve all seen quotes about there being no light without dark- and YES. Yes, of course that’s true. One cannot have shade without sun. The pale moon is brighter because it hangs in an inky sky. Of course. But for me that’s a little, forgive me, black and white.
Give me the orange stars with their yellow halos, glowing happily in the windswept blue sky that dances and skitters across the canvas. Let me lie under THAT sky. I need the hues and shades of all of my friends, and the different things that they bring out in me, to help me be everything that I can be. And I need to do that for them. I need to be someone’s blue. And I need my orange.
Close friends are truly life’s treasures. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. With gentle honesty, they are there to guide and support us, to share our laughter and our tears. Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone.
Vincent Van Gogh