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  • Writer's pictureThe Archivist

Vincent Van Gogh: Deemed a Genius Today, Yet Insane During His Time

The story of Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ear while painting is a story that is often told when teaching Van Gogh and his works in high school. I remember the first time I learned about Vincent Van Gogh. I had learned that he was one of the founders of Impressionism. That he painted like no other at the time. His use of color, his thick brush strokes, and his subject matter were quite novel during that time period. However there are certain things that were not taught to us, including why he cut off his ear, and how painting saved his life until his unfortunate demise. I recently had the privilege to visit the Vincent Van Gogh Immersive Experience, and had the opportunity to learn more about my favorite artist’s life.

Van Gogh was an individual who suffered from schizophrenia and epilepsy, but a patient who managed to paint thousands of paintings while in a psychiatric facility. He only sold one work during his lifetime. He died from suicide. If only he knew, that centuries later, he would be celebrated by billions. That his work would be taught, learned, and showcased all around the globe.

While going through the exhibit, I often wondered, how he would feel if he saw his works up all over the walls like this.

I wondered, how is it possible that such a sad and miserable human, could create some of the most profound works in the world? He is the perfect example of someone who transferred their pain and suffering into happiness. He persevered.

His depictions of the world around him were not in an effort to create something different. Rather they were created because he himself viewed the world as such. He was color blind, and therefore his choice of such abstract colors was influenced by such. As a schizophrenic, he viewed the world through a different lens, which is apparent through how he depicts linear perspective, his choice of subject matter, and the thickness of his brush strokes. His approach to painting was quite a different one compared to many of the previous artists who came before him.

I would argue that Van Gogh was not an impressionistic solely because of the way he used the different elements of art in his work. But also because of the way he viewed the world so uniquely. He seeked inspiration from places that during that time were regarded as inferior. Van Gogh is famous for his paintings of the almond blossoms and irises. But what many are not aware of, is his profound inspiration from the Japanese. He was inspired by their confidence in their brushstrokes, the way they captured form, and especially nature. He brought that inspiration with him into many of his works.

Van Gogh recognized that he was different, but he chose to continue to offer his perspective to the world. To give us all the opportunity to see things through his lens. To view the beauty of nature through all of his pain and suffering. Despite being told that his work was not good enough, that he did not paint well enough, he still managed to create thousands of beautiful works.

Imagine if he had not persisted?

We would not only have lost one of the greatest geniuses, but also grown insane with paintings drenched in realism. Therefore I beg to ask, why must different be regarded as insane? And why is it that when that difference has become more common, that it is then regarded as genius? Why not embrace the differences from the beginning, and truly appreciate the beauty the geniuses bestow upon the world with their perspective and talent.

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