If only Vincent could have had a thicker skin. If only the church valued his contribution. If only there was medication for his manic depression. If only there was a support group for self mutilators. If only he’d hung on a little longer.
He was so young, so passionate, so troubled, so smart, so hard-working, so confident, so insecure, so religious. Vincent van Gogh was such a good writer as well as a great painter.
For my Literature of Art class at the Art Students League taught by Ephraim Rubenstein we read Vincent’s letters to his brother Theo. They break your heart. He writes to his brother with enthusiasm about the first sermon he preached. Yet the strict religiosity of his father failed him. He did not have the proper degree and could not obtain it. His father was an arbitrary, withholding, judgmental preacher. Vincent converted his religious zeal into his art. This schism of art and religion is a theme in his life and letters.
Vincent became itinerant. Though he lived in extreme poverty; he was always hopeful that the next place, person, teacher would help him. That good was just around the next corner. He died at 37. His best work happened in just 10 years. If only he had hung on a little longer.
The savior of his work and legacy was his sister in law, Theo’s wife, Johanna Gesina van Gogh. She kept his letters and his paintings together. Would you do that for your husband’s mentally ill brother?
I doubt I would. There was so little to indicate that his work had value.
A current running through van Gogh’s letters is a desire to help mankind. To be useful.
And another theme is the way he prods Theo to admire other writers and painters. It’s true. We do not admire each other enough.
“Admire as much as you can; most people do not admire enough.” God. So true. I admire van Gogh for his writing and his art, but not for his life. I do not admire him for giving up on himself.
I was at the MoMA last week. After reading his letters, it’s amazing that his work persists. His Starry Night, (see above) it can suck you in.
In my water color class, I tried to paint like him on Saturday. The teacher told me, “That tree or that bush, or whatever that is, that’s too big.” She did not see the resemblance of my work to van Gogh’s. But I see it.
Train your eyes to see and to admire.