From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gauguin: Where do we come from?

The title of this famous Gauguin painting includes these
three questions:  Where Do We Come From?  What Are We?  Where Are We Going?

Although brought up in a strict Catholic environment
and then educated in an authoritarian Jesuit seminary,
Gauguin wrestled as much with angels as Jacob did
(as shown in another well-known Gauguin painting, Vision After the Sermon). reports that Gauguin questioned both the literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief that Jesus was (is) uniquely divine.   (It is unfortunate that the author of this same report calls Gauguin “impudent” for having questions
like these.)

This report then draws from the writings of Amishai Maisels to further describe Gauguin’s religious beliefs.
Gauguin allegedly distinguished between the “exterior” (dogmatic) and “interior” (esoteric) aspects of religion,
and sought that which is esoterically common to all religions.  Although Gauguin believed that Christ’s model was an ideal one for humans to emulate, he did not believe that Christ was the only such model. He believed, for example, that Buddha was another ideal example of what humanity could become.

During the time that Gauguin spent in Tahiti (which was considerable), he produced quite a few writings in addition to his paintings. reports that one theme of these writings was the “destruction of Tahiti by the local French missionaries.”  Gauguin believed that these missionaries were “destroying the sense of poetry” in that traditionally exotic place.  This criticism was especially pronounced within his private
correspondence, but was also very much present within his public Tahiti journal, Noa Noa.  His anti-missionary commentaries often centered upon what he considered to be examples of their hypocrisy.

Nevertheless, Gauguin seemed to be persistently seeking the answers to life’s huge conundrums:  Where do we come from?  What are we?  Where are we going? 
Copyright June 7, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 


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