I was at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and had the opportunity to stand in front of the breathtaking work of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises. I tried to take it all in—the beauty , the thick layers of paint and the small, bold strokes of color. I studied each individual part of the painting while trying to keep it in the context of the whole.
I leaned in close to the glass. I would have pressed my nose against it, but I suspected the security guards might have frowned upon that. As I studied the painting, I noticed something that any reproduction, print, or “Googled” image of this masterpiece would not show.
There are small bits of blank canvas on the edges of Irises.
Van Gogh’s easel must have held the canvas in place in these areas, so they never got covered with paint.
It’s easy to miss the blank parts of Irises. With the way the paint leaps off the canvas, the brilliant bold pigments, and the irises themselves that seem push their way past the borders of the painting, those slight blank edges don’t appear to be intentional. They were simply created by what held it in place.
Van Gogh’s canvas is nothing like the bright white, treated blank canvases sold at your local Aaron Brothers.
No, this canvas is threadbare and has a dull gray color. It’s undignified. And it sits in sharp contrast to what covers 98% of it.
I wonder if the curator working to frame this famous painting tried to cover those areas. Perhaps after some work, he decided to leave them exposed, for fear of covering up any part of the painting itself. So there they sit. The flat, dull gray patches, in the midst of bold color and depth.
Seeing this made me feel like Vincent and I shared a secret.
I saw something I that wasn’t intended to be seen by a casual glance.
It’s the bold, layered beauty that initially draws us to one another. It’s the lines, the detail, the whole picture that invites us into each other’s lives. We can be the closest of friends for decades, and still not learn all there is to know about one another. That is the magnificence and complexity of humanity. Like Van Gogh’s Irises, we could study it every day, and still find new things to see. There is enough texture and color to last a lifetime.
But it’s the blank parts of the canvas that are, in my mind, the most sacred. The unfinished, the minutely exposed, and the unintentional—those areas are rarely seen. They are the parts of our souls that may never be properly put into words. It’s the dull, gray, undignified areas that we keep to ourselves and away from the casual glance. It’s the vulnerable places where we, like Van Gogh’s canvas, need to be held.
To discover the unfinished edges in someone else is to know that they are authentic—and it is a rare and beautiful gift. Because you understand that they haven’t been manufactured or printed, but painstakingly “created” with places that reveal they’ve had to be held.
But that is a gift for those who lean in closely, with their noses (almost) pressed against the glass and who look beyond the surface. In the process of discovering the beauty in the threadbare parts of others—I have discovered it in my own unfinished parts as well. I am grateful for those who have held me; my friends, my family, my God Himself.
MELISSA MAIMONE brings encouragement to her audiences with a blend of insight, transparency, and theology. Affected by depression and anxiety from a young age, she shares with vulnerability (and plenty of humor!) that a hopeful, joyous life is possible no matter what your circumstance.