A few days ago I was trying to write about what inspires me in life, but I just couldn’t find anything. And now I realize why. It’s not about what inspires me, but who. So I decided to have a category on my blog named WHO INSPIRES ME, and there you can find all the people who have set an example for me, whose stories have made an impact on me and hopefully, you’ll get inspired too.
So the first person I’m talking about is VINCENT VAN GOGH.
Now, let me get this straight: I’m not an expert on art. Although, art is subjective. A painting can bring different emotions to different people. A song or a poem can mean something to me, but something completely different to you. But, I’m not here to discuss art. I’m here to talk about Van Gogh’s story and how it inspires me.
Van Gogh thought he knew what he wanted to be in life, but failed constantly. And all this failing led him to a total darkness; he cut ties with his family for almost a year, and drove himself to a complete isolation, that also led him to depression. But then, during the summer of 1880, he finally decided to become an artist. He was twenty-seven years old.
Van Gogh’s cousin by marriage, Mauve, gave him several lessons in his studio. Vincent was completely dependent on the money his brother Theo sent him every month, which allowed him to rent a studio; he put all his time and energy into painting, confident that someday he’d be able to make a living out of his art.
You see, Van Gogh wasn’t a natural talent as an artist. It took him a lot of practice, and failing and starting all over again. Although, people that have studied him, say that he was a natural talent in writing. You can see this through the letters he wrote, most of them to his favorite brother Theo. There are 820 surviving letters; in them, Van Gogh writes about art, but also about his life and his own struggle. They say that “they are his most penetrating ‘self-portrait’”.
It was in one of those letters that I found three of my favorite quotes ever.
The letter dates from January, 1874, and it’s addressed to his brother Theo. On the first paragraph, when talking about painters that he and his brother enjoy, he says: “How I’d like to talk to you about art again, but now we can only write about it often; find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful”.
And then, after he wrote down some of the names of the artists he enjoyed the most, he says to his brother: “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it. And teach us to see”. And last but not least, almost by the end of the letter he writes: “I also have nature and art and poetry, and if that isn’t enough, what is?”
Like I said at the begging of this post, I’m not an expert on art. I’ve never even tried painting, not because I don’t want to, but because I think I’d be terrible at it. I am, however, a writer. Writing has been there for me ever since my mom gave me my first journal and pen. I was around five years old. Even then, I remember my attempts at writing poetry. I wrote a “poem” about a fireman, and then another one about Hello Kitty. As I grew up, I realized that my writing was the only way for me to express feelings. My paper and my pen acknowledged them, and let them be just what they were: emotions. No explanations, no contradictions or questions, just emotions. As I look back now I realize that all the characters I created back then, all those stories I wrote on my old notebooks, were a reflection of what I was going through. They helped me understand my situation. They helped me make decisions. And they also helped me dream, for most of those characters were already living the life I wanted. So I consider that art too. Whether you’re telling a story through words on paper or through colors on a painting, you’re portraying something. You’re giving a message. That’s why Van Gogh’s words get to me on so many levels.
I think most of us know of the tragic ending of Vincent Van Gogh. He became mentally ill, but that didn’t stop him from keep on painting. Sadly, on July 27, 1890 he shot himself in the chest, and two days later, he died. He never knew how big he’d become. He never imagined his name would be forever written in art history and that his work would inspire so many artists around the world.
It is a sad ending, but I think his life and his journey to become an artist, as he once dreamed when he was twenty-seven years old, are inspiring. He never had it easy. His family thought of him as a disgrace so many times. He failed over and over. He didn’t find his true passion until he was almost 30. And he never got to see his work being admired and respected. He fought mental illness; fought with monsters that weren’t really there, demons that lived only on his mind. The same demons that led him to cut off part of his own left ear, without even knowing why. But he never stopped painting. On the contrary, he took his sadness, his loneliness and turned it into something beautiful. Something that even today, centuries later, is still admired just like he admired nature and loved, just like he loved poetry.