I’m also reading a book called Van Gogh: The Life by White and Smith. It was just published this year and it is an excellent read. Through the magic of modern technology I can check the book out for Kindle from my library. I’ve checked it out twice so far because it is a long book and I can only check out a book for 14 days. On the bright side I didn’t have to leave my house to check it out. Ah, the wonders of modern technology!
Full disclosure: I love Van Gogh’s painting. I’m not exactly sure WHY I like it, I mean I could articulate it, but admittedly it would be a very subjective articulation. I’ve seen Starry, Starry Night at MOMA, and a self–portrait at DIA and the MET (the MET has a fantastic collection of Van Gogh) and his painting is just endlessly fascinating to me.
Two things stand out about Van Gogh so far (I’m to the point where he has started to become an artist in The Hague – after failing spectacularly as an art dealer, teacher, preacher, and missionary). The first is his rebellious nature.
It’s quite obvious that Van Gogh was born a rebel because he demonstrated these tendencies from a very young age. He got so bad that he was sent away to a boarding school for a time, which only seemed to entrench his solitary and rebellious nature. He wanted no one telling him what to do; he would decide that, although at the same time he craved his family’s approbation.
His family (and I think this is key to understanding Van Gogh) knew that he was a quirky individual, but never really figured out how to handle him so that he flourished in his quirkiness. He failed so many times and so spectacularly, and his family certainly saw all of that, but they never really “got” him; not that this would have been an easy thing, because so far in the book it’s not clear that Van Gogh ever really “got” himself.
The second thing that stands out clear as a pikestaff from Van Gogh’s life is the number and intensity of his failures. He started off working for an uncle in The Hague; failed at that (because of interpersonal conflicts (another recurring theme from his life); got transferred to Paris for awhile, where he again was sent away to London. Lasted in London (same business) for a while before being dismissed from there. Went home to Etten for a short time, then back to London as a teacher. Failed at that; went back to Holland to study to become a preacher, like his father (he had started preaching some in London). Studied to become a preacher, but was judged unfit (and lost interest) inside of three months; decided to become a missionary. He ended up a complete disaster as a missionary and was dismissed after a short time due to excessive zeal (read psychological problems). At the behest of his brother (and lifelong benefactor) Theo; he took up drawing.
I haven’t gotten there yet, but Van Gogh was able to sell only one painting in his lifetime, so from a success viewpoint, even as a painter he was a spectacular failure.
What I began wondering as I read through Van Gogh’s life is, “how does one handle a person like a Van Gogh; or can they be helped to flourish at all?” I don’t really have an answer for that yet.