◐ Book Name: Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh
◐ Author: Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is often known as the loneliest, most tormented artist in history, but most people familiar with art history also know that he had a close relationship with his younger brother Theo, to whom he wrote one letter every single night. Theo died only six months after his brother, after which, Theo’s wife compiled Vincent’s letters to her husband, immortalising their bond forever.
I have just finished reading part two of Dear Theo, which covers the years 1881-1883. During this period, Vincent’s mental state seems to have begun deteriorating. He is somewhat losing the wonder and optimism with which he once saw the world, gaining an air of cynicism in its place.
It is also during this time he begins to devote more of his time to art, deciding it as the path he chooses to follow. So begins a time of discouragement, as he is not considered a true artist by those around him, and writes of how remarks like this grieve him. Besides Theo, he does not have the support of his family.
From his letters, I gather Van Gogh is not only one with a deep well of emotion but also one that plunges completely into what he is passionate about and does not hold back. He creates art for the sake of capturing the world through his eyes. Though he does attempt to sell his work, he also refuses to compromise his art for the sake of saleability.
It is heartbreaking to me to see how genuine Vincent is, yet how unappreciated this is by the people around him. His parents scold him for not making a true living and needing to rely on others for means. A mentor in art tells him he is no artist. He begins to describe depressive episodes. Yet still he pursues art and constantly seeks to improve himself.
His values are at odds with the world’s values, and for this, he suffers for the rest of his life. If only more people treasured the things worth treasuring, perhaps the world would be a kinder place.
Not that I shall become anything extraordinary, but ‘ordinary,’ and then I mean by ordinary that my work will be sound and reasonable, and will have a right to exist, and will serve to some end.
But my intellectual passions were strong, and I mean thereby that without asking anything in return, I only wanted to give, not to receive. Foolish, wrong, exaggerated, proud, for in love one must not only give but also take, and reversing it, one must not only take, but also give.
It cannot be denied that food and drink and sleep are not enough for a man, but that he longs for something nobler and higher; ay, he positively cannot do without it.
We who try our best to live, why do we not live more?
What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? It will be a hard pull for me; the tide rises high, almost to the lips and perhaps higher still, how can I know? But I shall fight my battle, and sell my life dearly, and try to win and get the best of it.
But I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpeless.
It has always seemed to me that when an artist shows his work to the public, he has the right to keep to himself the inward struggle of his own private life (which is directly and fatally connected with the peculiar difficulties involved in producing a work of art). It is very improper for a critic to dig up a man’s private life when his work is above reproach.
Look here, in my opinion all politeness is founded on good-will towards everybody, founded on the necessity felt by everyone who has a heart in his bosom, of helping others, of being of use to somebody; finally, the need one feels of living with others and not alone.
Either through figures or through landscapes I wish to express not sentimental melancholy, but serious sorrow. In short, I want to reach so far that people will say of my work: He feels deeply, he feels tenderly–notwithstanding my so-called roughness, perhaps even because of it.