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The Two Stories of Art

Art is the addition of two stories. The story of the art piece and the story of the story.

What stories does Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear tells?

The painting itself, devoid of context, shows us a man looking at us with a calm and somewhat sad expression. His clothes suggest a cold weather and his bandage indicates a recent injury. The autumnal color palette, the stillness of the scene and the melancholy of the protagonist instills sentiments of boredom, serenity or apathy. This painting looks like what it feels waking up from a long sleep and being still tired. Or a moment of quiet after a long sob.

This is the story of the art.

But it is the story of the story which makes this painting one of the most recognizable in art history.

Van Gogh’s famously lost an ear during one of the many mental health episodes he experienced in his life. This painting is an autoportrait taken just after the incident. It is theorized that the reason Van Gogh’s painted this canvas was to persuade his doctors of his wellness. This background add depth to the art. His solemn expression is suddenly explained and magnified.

This is the story of the story.

It is the combinaison of these two stories that makes it such a powerful statement. A testimony from one of our peer. A message from somebody living a very different life but feeling emotions we’re familiar with.

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