The Life of Vincent Van Gogh: A must read for every Artist


Vincent van Gogh’s father wanted him to become a religious minister, to live a life of respect – comfortable, convenient – and not only in this world, in the other world after death too. But Vincent van Gogh wanted to become a painter. His father said, ”You are mad!”

He said, “That may be. To me, you are mad. I don’t see any significance in becoming a minister because all I would be saying would be nothing but lies. I don’t know God. I don’t know whether there is any heaven or hell. I don’t know whether man survives after death or not. I will be continually telling lies. Of course, it is respectable, but that kind of respect is not for me; I will not be rejoicing in it. It will be a torture to my soul.” The father threw him out.

He started painting – he is the first modern painter.

He could not sell a single painting in his whole life.

And it was impossible to live; he could not earn a single pie. His brother used to give him enough money, just enough, to exist, to survive. But he needed money to paint — for the canvas and the colors and the brushes. So this was his arrangement: out of seven days… he used to get money every Sunday for one week. Every week, for three days he would eat and for four days he would fast, so that money could be saved to purchase canvases, colors, and other things that he needed.

His trees are painted so high that they go above the stars; stars are left far behind. Now, you will think that this man is mad… trees going up higher than the stars? Have you seen such trees anywhere? When Vincent van Gogh was asked, “Your trees always go beyond the stars…?” he said, “Yes, because I understand trees. I have felt always that trees are the ambition of the earth to reach the stars. Otherwise why? To touch the stars, to feel the stars, to go beyond the stars – this is the desire of the earth. The earth tries hard, but cannot fulfill the desire. I can do it. The earth will understand my paintings, and I don’t care about you, whether you understand or not.”

Nobody could understand what they are, what is their meaning.

A little while ago modern physics has come to find that many of the stars that you see in the sky are spirals, although you don’t see them as spirals. And he has painted, in one of his paintings, stars as spirals. And every critic thought that he is mad because stars are not spirals. Van Gogh said, “What can I do? Whenever I want to paint a star, my whole being says it is a spiral.”

After one hundred years science has come to the conclusion that they are really spirals.

Before dying, he spent his last years in a madhouse.

In France, where the sun shines the hottest and the brightest, for one year he was painting all possible positions of the sun – a whole series of paintings, just sun, the whole day from morning to evening. And doctors thought that too much sun has driven him crazy. After the madhouse Vincent van Gogh painted his last painting, again about the sun.

He committed suicide… that too has a tremendous significance. It is no ordinary suicide.

He committed suicide because he said, “Whatsoever I wanted to paint, I have painted. Now, just to exist is pointless. I have given that which I came to give; now I can go back to the original source. There is no need to live in the body anymore. I have contributed. My work is done. I have lived tremendously – the way I wanted to live. I have painted what I wanted to paint. My last painting I have done today, and now I am taking a jump from this life into the unknown, whatever it is because this life no longer contains anything for me.”

Surely, there has been no greater painter than Vincent Van Gogh. But he’s not just limited to that. These words from Van Gogh are no less than that of a great poet or a teacher of life. It truly shows the kind of human being he was and his deep insights into life. One of my favorite people. Pity that the world could not understand him, or just gave him a space to live. How could this man be considered as eccentric? 

The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. People are often unable to do anything, imprisoned as they are in I don’t know what kind of terrible, terrible, oh such terrible cage. Do you know what makes the prison disappear? Every deep, genuine affection. Being friends, being brothers, loving, that is what opens the prison, with supreme power, by some magic force. Without these one stays dead. But whenever affection is revived, there life revives.

If only we try to live sincerely, it will go well with us, even though we are certain to experience real sorrow, and great disappointments, and also will probably commit great faults and do wrong things, but it certainly is true, that it is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.

What am I in the eyes of most people? A nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion.

Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum… Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.

That God of the clergymen, He is for me as dead as a doornail. But am I an atheist for all that? The clergymen consider me as such — be it so; but I love, and how could I feel love if I did not live, and if others did not live, and then, if we live, there is something mysterious in that. Now call that God, or human nature or whatever you like, but there is something which I cannot define systematically, though it is very much alive and very real, and see, that is God, or as good as God.

To believe in God for me is to feel that there is a God, not a dead one, or a stuffed one, but a living one… When I have a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out and paint the stars.”

~Vincent van Gogh ~

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