HOW VAN GOGH TAUGHT ARTISTS TO DEFY NORMAL.
What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the name Vincent Van Gogh?
Maybe it’s his most famous paintings. Starry Night, Vase with Five Sunflowers, or the three Bedroom at Arles pieces (my personal favorites) to name a few.
Maybe it’s his fictional appearance in the cult TV show Doctor Who, or maybe you just heard his name in passing during your freshman art class, but didn’t really learn who he was.
Whatever it is, let me reintroduce you to the flame-haired Dutchman who became the epitome of a tortured artist.
It’s a strand in Van Gogh’s story that we see throughout his entire life. First by his fretful mother, then at boarding school, then when he confessed his love to Eugénie Loyer (I’m sorry, but with a name like that he should have known better).
He was then fired from his job and buried himself deeper into his painting. Unfortunately, the rejection didn’t stop there, but followed into his artwork.
He didn't follow the “rules” of painting. Marred by his own rejection, he, in turn, rejected the popular techniques of Impressionist painting. His early works were dark and somber, not at all in line with the bright style of that day.
He barely made any money and spent much of his time in correspondence with his brother Theo, who often criticized his technique’s of color. Soon he began to pick up a lighter palette and began to develop the style that we are most familiar with.
One of these colors was yellow. To him, yellow was most important because it symbolized emotional truth. Van Gogh was an emotional man through and through. He saw things in ways others didn’t and they rejected him for it.
Starry Night is a perfect example of this. Everything is in perfect movement. The stars are swirling, the night sky is in tandem with the trees below, because he stopped and took a moment to study and connect with the emotion around him.
Closer to the end of his life, his work became almost eccentrically vibrant.
The best example of this is his second variation of his Bedroom at Arles. He painted this during his stay at the asylum in Saint-Remy. The colors are bold, bright and challenging.
In his own insanity (which included cutting of his entire right ear and sending it to a maid) his emotions came out through color and lines.
His reds were like fire, his strokes were sharp and heavy and he added new colors in places that the previous version only showed one flat color. His emotions commanded his work, and as a result he turned his rejection and insanity into his most, in my opinion, powerful piece of artwork.
Now, I’m not telling you to go insane because it will help you become a better creative and artist. But there are some things I want you to take away from this brilliant man.
You will be rejected.
There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work, someone who may even try to work against you. But you MUST keep keeping on. You must create.
“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing." -Van Gogh
Don’t do what everyone else is doing just to play it safe. Challenge. Defy. Contradict. Be unique. Be yourself.
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” -Van Gogh
Cut your ear off.
Okay, not literally. Bad idea. What I mean by that is this, don’t listen to outside voices. The haters. All of those people telling you that you’re doing it wrong, or not enough, or too much, or poorly. Don’t listen. Listen to the one true Voice telling you that you were created to create and whatever you make is beautiful.
“If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." -Van Gogh
Find the beauty in everything.
Don’t shut your eyes for a second. Take everything in. Study the wind moving through the trees. Watch the bumblebees seduce the sunflowers. Captivate your heart and mind by the beauty that is around you and draw inspiration from it.
“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” -Van Gogh
These, among so many other things, are lessons that can be learned from the life of VIncent Van Gogh.
Van Gogh challenged the culture he lived in and changed it forever. It's not an easy path to challenge cultural standards and live beyond everyone's expectations, but the good your hands bring to the world is so worth it.
How have you seen culture challenged by your work? What boundaries are you afraid to cross? How can you step out into what you make with boldness like Van Gogh?
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Teagan Olivia Sturmer is a maker and published author currently living in Nashville, TN. She believes that more people should enjoy the simple pleasures of matching pajama sets, hot tea and a good book. She makes and writes because it grounds her and gives her a sense of belonging. If she could have her way, it would always be Autumn and Winter, and always Christmas. You can find her work on Etsy at Muted Rose Mercantile and on Instagram @teaganolivia.