Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery, and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age
by Modris Eksteins (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2012)
With students, read the opening paragraphs of the introduction of Solar Dance. Suggest that they read closely to see what the author offers as evidence of his statement about Vincent van Gogh’s popularity and how he introduces his own role as a historian.
• How does Eksteins’s evidence compare with students’ own analysis about the meaning of popularity (e.g., not only do Van Gogh posters appear on student dormitory walls, but various businesses use his name in their products: banks in Asia, producers of gin and vodka, and oilfields)?
• What does the “turnaround in perception” mean, and how does the author use that reversal to introduce his theme (e.g., while he lived, today’s “most popular artist” was “neglected” and “despised”; the author and his readers will explore reasons for the turnaround)?
• What does the author’s use of “we” and “our”—paragraph 1, “we begin to explain,” “our champion,” and paragraph 2, “our fascination” and “our interest”—indicate to readers (e.g., this becomes an issue for people today, not just for people who lived during the time of the story)?
• How does Eksteins connect the change in Van Gogh’s fortunes from failure to celebrity with the culture and values in Germany after World War I (e.g., after the war, the German people could not admit or confront the reality that they had lost; they reversed the meaning of what had happened from defeat into victory)?
See the teaching resource for more lesson ideas.
Cross-curricular Suggestions: History, Social Studies
A study of Solar Dance could help students understand and appreciate connections between significant historic events and personalities and some of the cultural and social issues that continue to engage people today and shape their culture. Students will also gain insight into how the devastation caused by World War I changed the way many people viewed the world and how the consequences of war influenced their moral, cultural, political, and economic decisions.