Of course, Gauguin tried the same thing, and also failed:
Gauguin (1846–1903) did the same thing. He too was seeking for a universal. He went to Tahiti and there he, following the concepts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), championed the idea of the noble savage. The savage was to be the return to the primitive, the child of the race, and it was here, going back in time, that he hoped to find the universal. So Gauguin began to paint the beauty of the women he found there. For a time he felt that he had successfully removed himself from the loss of innocence in civilization and that this was enough. But his last great painting tells the conclusion he came to eventually.
This painting is called What? Whence? Whither?2 and it now hangs in the Boston Museum of Art. The title is painted on a yellow corner on the upper left of the picture, thus making quite sure that anyone who looks at the work will understand its meaning. Elsewhere3 in discussing the painting, he tells us that we are to look at it the opposite way to normal—namely, from the right to the left. So at the right, where we look first, we see the same kind of beauty as in his other paintings. There is the same exotic symbolism, the same appeal to the sensuous in the concept of the noble savage. But by the time our eye has moved across the canvas to the far left, we see a very different end to the story. He began the painting in 1897 and finished it in 1898. This is what he says about it: “I have finished a philosophical work on this theme, comparable to the gospel … A figure lifts up its arms into the air and, astonished, looks at these two personages who dare to think of their destination.” A little farther on he continues:
“Whither? Close to the death of an old woman, a strange, stupid bird concludes: What?… The eternal problem that punishes our pride. O Sorrow, thou art my master. Fate, how cruel thou art, and always vanquished, I revolt.”4 When you look at the left-hand side of the picture you see three figures. The first is a young Tahitian woman in all her beauty. Beside her is a poor old woman dying, watched only by a monstrous bird, which has no counterpart in nature. When Gauguin finished this painting he too tried to commit suicide, though in fact he did not succeed.
Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There.
Solomon, too, tried:
1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity.
2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”
3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine-my heart still guiding me with wisdom-and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.
5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.
8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.
10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.