There was a pretty funny and memorable song by The Modern Lovers (1976) called “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole”.
The oldest ‘verified’ modern human, Jenne Calment, remembers Vincent Van Gogh as just that when as a girl, she sold him some canvas in her uncle’s fabric shop in her hometown of Arles.
Jeanne Louise Calment’s [other] claim to fame is the Feb. 21, 1875, listing in the birth register in Arles, the southern French city where she began her days and ended them.
She was 12 or 13 when she met Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, and she said later that he was ”very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick — I forgive him, they called him loco.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have first hand accounts of history and to still have these impresarios around? Soon we will. Think of debating the ‘great American novel’ with Hemingway…
or having a demitasse with Pablo himself?
In Vincent’s defense, there was perhaps a deep psychic trauma in Van Gogh from being the second, less worthy Vincent. The first Vincent was stillborn and perhaps his mother passed on some deep sense of being unloved and inadequate that never left him. There are many other theories to explain Van Gogh’s behavior and they can be read here.
It was the dearth of self-love that led him to fanatical pursuit of religion, disdain for authority, unstable relationships his female cousin Kee, a prostitute named Sien, and Paul Gauguin, and to ultimately take his own life.
The church at Auvers, where Dr. Ga
But given his formal training, and dedicated study of other contemporaries and his forerunners in the impressionists, and his oeuvre (over 2,000 works), Van Gogh did not lack dedication. In his last three years, he created the majority of his works and his greatest masterpieces.
He was obsessed with creating and perhaps it was there, and not in his relationships, that he found the greatest meaning:
I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am, which is my life, the power to create.
Someday soon collective evolution will bring madmen like the Dutch painter of Sunflowers into the light (like these lovely Heliotropes at the Schiphol Amsterdam Airport).
We don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle but we do know that even the rudest and smelliest of jerks can still contribute to our collective evolution. It is the inability to “move on” that sometimes fuels the great geniuses like John Lennon so in the end, there can be some justice for these fellow humans that suffer and are yet able to cultivate their genius in the process.
Vincent Van Gogh, who suffered greatly and was hence, by many accounts, insufferable as a person, remains the most influential Dutchman to have ever lived.
To hear more about brain injury and its hope for repair, watch this video podcast that I created: