Van Gogh’s work is valued in the billions of dollars, and, yet, he died a failure.
He tried to be a preacher like his father. That didn’t work out. He taught school for a while. That wasn’t his gig. He was fired from an art dealership. Professionally, he was a loser.
His personal life was not any better. He had a brief relationship with a former hooker. He fell in love with an older neighbor who attempted to kill herself. He never married or had children. In the romance department, Van Gogh was a zero.
Researchers have suggested he was bi-polar, epileptic, and an alcoholic. He spent time in a mental institution. In every way, Vincent Van Gogh’s life was a nightmare, but his art is the stuff dreams are made of.
Recently at an after-hours event at the Columbia Museum of Art, I got to view the temporary Van Gogh exhibit. Conversations that evening seemed to be some version of, “It’s sad that he died without knowing how his art would influence generations to come.” or “Isn’t it sad he never got the praise he deserved?”
Van Gogh is quoted as saying, “I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.”
Aren’t we all a little like Van Gogh? We have days when we feel like we are not accomplishing enough. Some days may feel like we are not accomplishing anything at all. But what if, like Van Gogh, we can’t see how our lives impact others? Maybe our actions, the good ones and the bad ones, have a ripple effect that extends to several generations. I’m ok with not seeing the results of the seeds we have planted, but I do wish there was some way we could get a sneak peek into the future. Just a quick highlights reel would be enough. I love to think that Van Gogh could somehow know.
On that Tuesday night, I wished Vincent Van Gogh could somehow be a fly on the wall. I wished he could see what became of his art. At our after-hours event, people enjoyed the food and the drinks and the music and the flower arrangements, but Mr. Van Gogh was the star. What would he think of it all? An extravagant private party of more than 1,000 all there to see his work. I don’t think he would feel like a loser at all.
At the end of the evening, every guest received a bouquet of flowers. Of course, every bouquet had a sunflower. As I worked on the arrangement, I thought about Van Gogh’s quote, “I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.” Van Gogh may have been far from where he wanted to be when he died, but now he is known as one of the greatest artists of all time. People all over the world gather at lovely events like the one I attended with the sole purpose of celebrating the art of a man who died feeling like a zero, a loser.
I finished my arrangement and stepped back for a final check. Yes, the sunflower was front and center. That seemed exactly right.
Tammy Davis is a teacher and a writer. She is not an art expert. She encourages everyone to go to the Van Gogh exhibit at least once. Van Gogh, just go. The exhibit runs through January 12.