What do we know about Vincent van Gogh?
He’s rumored to have sliced off his earlobe with a razor in a manic frenzy. That’s the first thing that comes to mind for many. It’s dramatic, unfathomable and obviously quite memorable.
But there’s speculation as to whether that’s how things really played out that night with Paul Gauguin inside that yellow house in the South of France.
There’s even mystery shrouding Vincent’s untimely death at the age of 37. Some say he was murdered by townspeople who bullied him to no end, vs. the trite and tattered tale of a madman who simply took his own life.
It’s hard to separate fact from fiction, but a wealth of correspondence (which we can attribute to Van Gogh’s affliction with Hypergraphia, or the intense desire to write) between he and his beloved brother Theo, gives us some concrete clues.
“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process,” reads one of his letters. Yes, it seems Van Gogh’s madness and artistic genius were inextricably linked and woven into the fabric of his being. We have it from his own mouth.
But let’s move past the psycho-emotional aspects of Vincent’s life and free him from the “crazy artist” box. Vincent was a man who waged a life-long-battle not with insanity, but with something we all strive for—to be loved, seen, and understood.
“I wish they would only take me as I am.”
Vincent Van Gogh was a sensitive, complex soul. More than anything, his letters suggest that he struggled to connect with others on a deep level and that he longed for requited love of a platonic and romantic nature. Yet he failed time and again to forge meaningful relationships.
A new movie promises to throw back the curtain on his life. Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully hand painted feature film, tells the story: The tragically beautiful truth conveyed by the subjects in 120 of his most memorable paintings, including Armand Roulin, Dr. Gachet, and Postman Roulin, to name a few.
It’s time we see Vincent in a different light.
“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.”
Aside from a desire for soul connection, in a cruel twist of fate, Vincent yearned to be seen by his peers; to be recognized by the art world. Instead, he was ridiculed for his crude style and made the laughing stock of the art world.
Fast forward over a hundred years and he’s now recognized as one of the most influential and recognizable artists of the twentieth century. This is the same man who started painting at 27 and died ten year later after producing more than 2000 works.
But we see you now, Vincent.
“If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is a grass in the beginning.”
Despite his poor relationships and health, Vincent persisted at the easel. He worked feverishly to produce hundreds of paintings that are now valued collectively in the billions.
Though he sought escape from extreme poverty, it’s clear from his letters that painting wasn’t solely a profession; it occupied his mind and boosted his spirits. Most importantly, it gave him a tangible, reliable reason to live.
Despite often feeling like a failure as an artist, Vincent seemed to know in an intuitive way that he was creating important work, but that it would take time for the rest of the world to catch up. Posthumously, interest in knowing Van Gogh, the man, never seems to wane.
In the end, Vincent prevailed in a way. We’re looking deeper into the soul of the man behind the work. We see and appreciate his art for more than its dollar value.
Van Gogh left a story for us to follow and people will never stop turning the page.
You win, Vincent.