How right it is to love flowers and the greenery of pines and ivy and hawthorn; they have been with us from the very beginning.
— Vincent Van Gogh
What I love about Van Gogh’s paintings is his gift of making visible what appears invisible.
His gift of taking that which appears invisible to us, because we perhaps choose not to notice, or, because we are preoccupied with something else; and making us notice, making it visible to us.
He takes everyday subjects: the beauty of a flower, a pine, a hawthorne hedge; and elucidates and illuminates that subject, so that we not only begin to notice, but unearth a buried sense of wonder.
His persuasive gift of letting the invisible become visible to us, is transformative.
It can transform us from apathy, to empathy, from ignorance, to understanding.
Van Gogh was a gently persuasive and an irresistibly compelling thought leader.
He transported us to the place where we needed to go. Where did we need to go?
We needed to go back to who we are. We needed to return to our authentic being.
We needed to dismantle our cynicism, discharge our skepticism, dismiss our fears.
We needed to remove the blinders that block our peripheral vision, and see better.
Dissolve calcified cobwebs of disillusionment, distrust, doubtfulness and disbelief.
When all these layers of dross are dissolved, then our protective armor is disarmed.
Then we return to who we truly and authentically are; we become like a child again.
We rediscover a renewed childlike wonderment, that was always there, but buried.
These ‘Ten Smart Essays’ address the theme of making visible, that which was invisible.
In Essay One, entitled ‘Smart Slums’, I introduce the need to bring literacy to the slums.
I am compelled in this direction by my grandfather, who as a child, was a slum dweller.
Like many slum children, he was inconsequential and unnoticed because he was invisible.
Essay Three, ‘A Person That I Did Not Know’ is about someone who finally becomes visible.
I finally noticed her, and I finally removed my blinders about someone in her circumstances.
I finally saw someone within my peripheral vision, whose life was different from my own.
I finally permitted this person to be of consequence to me, to be real, to be relevant to me.
This invisible bus conductor in London transformed my perceptions from apathy to empathy, from ignorance to curiosity, and then, finally, toward a more responsible, more mature understanding.
As a schoolboy, this invisible bus conductor taught me more than any classroom teacher or subject.
In Essay One, there is a point whereupon my grandfather elucidates that one can learn more from real life stories than one can ever learn from a school classroom. This lesson is notable in my final essay, Essay Ten, ‘The Smartest Man I Know’, about my friend James in the Samburu in Kenya.
I have learned more from James than I have ever learned from the most learned of academics.
Our fellow global citizens, who live on less than a dollar a day, in slums, remain invisible.
From Kibera in Kenya, to Calcutta in India, to Sao Paolo in Brazil, they remain invisible.
All this invisibility can make us cynical, apathetic, uninterested, uncurious, unconcerned.
Yet, there will always be those who finally choose to remove their blinders in order to see.
As they begin to see, and to make visible what is invisible, they illuminate our viewpoint.
In addition to Van Gogh, there are two other Dutch painters that have helped me to see better, by removing my blinders: Jeroen Koolhaas (Haas) and Dre Urhahn (Hahn). Haas & Hahn founded the Favela Painting Foundation which uses art in the slums to “catalyze social change”.
Haas & Hahn disrupt and dissolve our cynicism and apathy toward slum dwellers worldwide, such as those living in the Rio de Janeiro and Via Cruzeiro favelas. Haas & Hahn accomplish all this by “mobilizing local youth to paint buildings with a rainbow of riotous color”.
Vincent Van Gogh would have loved them!