Once upon a time, Vincent Van Gogh was an amateur artist. Really? Yes. I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true. 🙂 Van Gogh started practicing his artwork with only paper, chalk, watercolor, and reed pens. He even attended art schools in France (keep in mind that he came from the Netherlands) and made copy after copy of artists before him. One particuluar artist that he loved, and influenced him significantly was Jean-Francois Millet. His studies, like many of Millet’s were of the countryside such as the riverbeds, wheelbarrows, the poor, and of course windmills (heaven knows I love those windmills).
Quite often, Van Gogh is portrayed as the picture of an artist in pain. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case if we delve a little deeper into his past. Although he was indeed a quiet and forboding character, in his many letters to Theo (brother) he sounded so content, even ambitious and hopeful. In these recollections of his daily routine, Van Gogh gathers the apperance of a man, a real and quite ordinary man before he became a legend.
“When it is not raining, I go out almost everyday, mostly on the moor. I make the studies fairly large like a few you saw when you (Theo) were here. One of them is a ‘hut at Het Heike’ (the little moor) and another a barn on the Rozendaal road that is known around here as the Protestant barn…Then the mill right across from there in the pasture, and the elms in the graveyard. And yet another, with woodcutters working in a large clearing where a big pine has been cut down. And I also try to draw the implements such as cart, plow, harrow, wheelbarrow, and so on” (Letter 145, to Theo, May 1881).
I try to imagine Van Gogh as he was writing this letter. Was he outside, working on a study of the fields? Or was the weather bad, and he was inside perhaps working on another copy of Millet? Sometimes, through these letters, I feel as though I can catch a short glimpse of the man behind the paintings.
Artists, critics, and admirers have their jargon and technicalities to contribute about him. However, these are but their own versions of Van Gogh, and there is nothing wrong with that. Actually, this is something we all do. For example have you ever found youself in a situation where you stop yourself because you can hear your mother or father’s words coming out of you? We often tend to emulate the people who influence us the most, whether they come from our experiences or through books and movies.
Here’s something that I take away from Van Gogh’s beginning:
When we speak for ourselves, it’s not solely I or you speaking. Our parents, our experiences, our role models have left an impression on us creating who we are. When we speak, something is created that is both old and new at the same time. “They” say that there’s nothing new under the sun. While I think “they” have a point, every individual that comes along is a cumulation of all the events, characters, and stories of the past. Yet, that individual is new, and different, and with purpose.
That being said, the average individual can be one of the most puzzling and yet enriching studies. Just one individual! Whether you’re the next Van Gogh, astronaut, Steve Jobs, or sales clerk, remember that who you are is supported by all those who came before you. So don’t ever give up, and if you don’t like it, then change it, find other voices that let you express who you are. Copying is a great start, Van Gogh did so, but don’t forget to jump out of the nest! 🙂