A Hospital Ward, a subject for art and poetry ART FOR WRITERS
It’s an impossibly long ward and a cold one. The patients have outdoor coats on and most are staying close to the stove. But the nuns seem to be taking care of things and there are blankets on the beds; patients can have both company and privacy.
In some ways it reminds me of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem The Hospital.
A year ago I fell in love with the functional ward
Of a chest hospital: square cubicles in a row
Plain concrete, wash basins — an art lover’s woe,
Not counting how the fellow in the next bed snored.
But nothing whatever is by love debarred,
Kavanagh, however, could afford to fall in love. He had lung cancer and the treatment he received extended his life by years. Van Gogh’s painting perhaps records a more ambivlent attitude. Around this time, he wrote, “Sometimes moods of indescribable anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant.”
There is no subject that writers and artists should avoid, except…and I am almost reluctant to say it, but I think it’s true and it is something I say in class, so I ought to say it here…except keep yourself safe. There may be some dark and painful place within yourself that you need to explore but perhaps it should be done, especially at first, without exposing it to the eyes of a critical world. And by criticial world I’m including a creative writing class (but not a therapeutic group because that’s a very different fish altogether). Or maybe you can explore in a creative way but protect yourself by doing it at a slant.
This painting is known as The Fever Ward, so not the place where Van Gogh stayed himself, or perhaps it was – the patients don’t look ill in a feverish sort of way – but he has put some distance between himself and the place he came to know by giving it another name…
Van Gogh painted it in April 1889, a few months after he cut off his own ear and only weeks after being a patient there himself. Neighbours didn’t want him to return home, calling him a red madman and he moved into rooms owned by a hospital doctor, a man he most have liked because he painted his portrait and gave it to him as a gift.
In May Van Gogh left Arles to stay voluntarily in another hospital in the south of France. Fourteen months later he shot himself .
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