Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) is one of the most highly esteemed historical artists, yet during his life he was barely recognized, and only sold one painting. He was a poor and troubled artist, who suffered bouts of depression and often relied on his brother Theo for financial support.
Van Gogh committed suicide at the young age of 37, leaving behind 900 paintings and 1100 drawings (although a new book claims that he may have been shot by someone else).
Today, Van Gogh’s paintings are worth millions of dollars. In 1990, one painting (Portrait of Dr. Gachet) sold for over 80 million dollars.
I have always admired the energy and color in his paintings. He was an artist with integrity who was honest with his art, and only found comfort in creating. He once wrote in a letter to his brother Theo “The only time I feel alive is when I'm painting”. This is something I can relate to, and I am sure many other artists can as well. His paintings were his comfort zones in a life of heartache, rejection, mental turmoil, and financial hardship.
Most of his most famous artworks were created in the final two years of his life, during his stay at a mental asylum at Saint Remey. His main themes included sunflowers, wheat fields, cypresses, flower still lifes, landscapes, and self-portraits.
There are three things that stand out for me about Van Gogh’s life as an artist.
- Vincent Van Gogh documented his life as an artist. During his life, he wrote over 800 letters to his brother Theo and others. Without these we would not know much about Van Gogh’s life and the inspiration behind his paintings. Van Gogh probably did not intend these as a record of his life, but they do serve that purpose for art historians and critics eager to learn more about his art, and the inspirations for his paintings.
I think all artists should document art in some way. Write about your art in a journal or sketchbook. Today, there are many great ways of documenting our art for future generations, including blogging, creating videos for Youtube, self-publishing art books and writings, and artists websites.
- Van Gogh believed that he could not be a true artist until learning how to draw. His earliest art education began at the age of 13 when Constantijn C. Huysmans, a famous teacher and Paris artist, first taught him to draw.
Van Gogh continued drawing till his late twenties, and only then began painting for the first time.
I realize some artists these days have abandoned learning traditional methods of drawing. But, I believe drawing and sketching still should be a solid foundation for all forms of visual art.
- Van Gogh painted even through times of mental anguish and depression. The story of Vincent Van Gogh’s life is a sad one filled with heartache, depression, health problems, alcohol abuse, and mental anxieties.
In spite of all his problems and rejection by the art community, he continued to paint. It appears that painting was what got him through these tough times, especially during his stay at Saint Remey. He painted most of his most famous artworks there, including Starry Night, and it even appeared he was recovering. But, only two months after being released he died from a gun shot wound, never getting the recognition he deserved in life.
There are many very talented artists today who do not get the recognition they deserve. Like Vincent Van Gogh, don’t let rejection distract from your art. Keep creating and grow as an artist. Paint even through the tough times.
Through your art, let the world know that you exist.