"One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way..." - Vincent Van Gogh
We all know and love the iconic paintings of the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh. He was ahead of his time in so many ways - his use of color and form is timeless, but he produced his brilliance during an era that didn't embrace it. Van Gogh died without fame as an artist.
We've all also heard of his madness - you know, the whole ear thing... but the real story still remains a mystery, our best guesses are all we have. Even the events of his death have now been called into question. We will probably never know the whole truth but Vincent left us with many gifts - and not just his art...
In his lifetime he wrote hundreds of letters - more than 600 to his brother Theo alone. From these letters, which create a diary of his life, historians have gathered information into his thoughts, beliefs and art. (Find them online!)
I have always appreciated the paintings of this tortured genius - but I didn't come into full appreciation of the man until I read Lust for Life, an autobiographical account of Van Gogh by Irving Stone. (You might have also seen or heard about the movie of the same name - it's not as good as the book, in my opinion.) Stone used Vincent's letters for the basis of his story. And what a story!
This book is where I fell in love with Van Gogh and found a deep appreciation for his painting on a level that could not have existed without the history of the man himself.
Did you know that he longed and agonized to become a missionary?
This is an excerpt from the book where he receives a letter of acceptance to become a missionary to a impoverished town of coal workers:
"He threw himself flat on the bed, letter clutched tight in his hand, exultant. At last he was successful! He had found his work in life! This was what he had wanted all the time, only he had not had the strength and courage to go straight to it!...
He sat down at the table and wrote a tumultuous, triumphant letter to his father telling him that he no longer needed his help, and that he meant from that time on to be a source of credit and gratification to the family. When he finished writing it was already twilight; thunder and lightening were smashing over Marcasse. He ran down the stairs, through the kitchen, and flung himself joyously into the rain..."
He gave every inch of himself to his passions - whether it was evangelizing or painting or loving or going mad (which sometimes feel like the same thing). Sure, he was unstable - but I learned so much between the lines of this book about what it means to dedicate your life to something - even when the world may not yet understand. Lust for life - the man lived and died with pure, unabashed passion. The whole thing is a tragedy, but it touched me deeply.
Van Gogh's genius was not achieved by an innate talent or magic - he worked. His persistence is something I think of often. He respected the 'doing' in art.
"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together." - Van Gogh
He produced over 900 paintings in his lifetime - and over a 1000 drawings and sketches.
"In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing." - Vincent Van Gogh
And while I have no plans to cut off my ear, I hope to have just a fraction of the passion, dedication and pursuit of my art and life as my beloved hero.
"Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well." - Vincent Van Gogh