Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh: A Portrait of the Compassionate Life by Carol A Berry

Summary: Reflection on Vincent Van Gogh, what Henri Nouwen taught and learned about Van Gogh, and some personal reflections of Carol Berry, a student of Nouwen.

I am not well educated in art history or art more generally. What I know of Van Gogh is that I can recognize his style of painting and that he cut off or injured his ear. I understood that he was likely mentally ill, which contributed to his suicide. Except he didn’t commit suicide but was probably killed by an accidental shooting when some young men (probably teens) were playing with a gun. And even that cutting off of his ear was probably an accident.

That is not to say that there wasn’t likely some mental illness in van Gogh’s life. But the focus of this book, channeling Nouwen’s thoughts, is primarily looking at van Gogh’s preparation for ministry and attempts at ministering to the poor and how eventually, his art grew to be a method of serving God and drawing attention to the plights of the poor.

I don’t have enough art history to know how historically accurate this book is or how unusual the presentation of van Gogh is here. But this seems like a well-researched and fairly presented book. And I was aware that van Gogh wanted to be a pastor before becoming a painter. So that did match my understanding. But I did not realize how much van Gogh attempted to use his art to change how people around him understood the world and poverty. I did not know he viewed art as a vocation and means to connect with God, although that is not unusual for artists.

This is not a straight biography of either van Gogh or Nouwen. It is a spiritual reflection using their lives as the jumping-off point. At some point, I want to read a more straightforward biography of both Nouwen and van Gogh. I thought the spiritual reflection was reasonable based on this history as I understand it. It was not strained or inappropriate as some spiritual reflection books can be. And it both made me reflect spiritually and want to learn more about the subjects, which I think is a good sign of a well-written book.

I read this on kindle. This means that all the images of his paintings were in black and white. If I had an iPad or other color screen, the kindle edition would have shown me the images in color. Or the hardcover edition has all of the images in color. This is a book where the images matter, and they are referred to in the text. If anything, I would have wanted more images and more direct references to them in the text. But the kindle (or an audiobook) is not the best medium for this type of book.

Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh: A Portrait of the Compassionate Life by Carol A Berry Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

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