“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.” ~ Vincent van Gogh
When I read this quote, at the tender age of 18, I fell in love with the artist Vincent van Gogh.
Who’d have thought this “nonentity” would go on to have a painting sell in an auction to the tune of $82.5 million!
Van Gogh is regarded as one of the most famous painters of the Western world, but you’ll find most qualify who he is not by what he painted but by the fact that he severed his ear. What has struck me in recent years, as the mental health crisis continues to grow, is that Vincent’s ear cutting is arguably one of the most famously documented moments of self-harm. As well as being a forefather of modern art, Vincent is arguably one of the most famous sufferers of mental illness.
Throughout his life, Vincent was plagued by chronic mental health problems. From long bouts of depression and mental paralysis, to self-admitted stays in various psychiatric hospitals in the end the only way Vincent silenced his demons was with a gun.
You might think that the correspondence he left behind in hundreds of letters to his brother, Theo, might be the ravings of an unhinged mind, but nothing could be further from the truth. Vincent had a rare eloquence and insight into life. And many of the issues he raises are more relevant in the 21st century than ever before.
Are we not all wrestling with self-acceptance, our own fallibility, and the desire to be loved? Do we all question our purpose and struggle with the desire to be validated and accepted?
Far from being maudlin and mad, the quotes below are profound and wise. I hope that they reach out and touch your soul.
“I wish they would only take me as I am.”
“It’s a pity that as one gains experience, one loses one’s youth.”
“I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.”
“I try more and more to be myself, caring relatively little whether people approve or disapprove.”
“Only when I fall do I get up again.”
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
“What is done in love is done well.”
“For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars make me dream.”
“Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey then without realising it.”
“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”
“In spite of everything, I shall rise again.”
“Your profession is not what brings home your pay check. Your profession is what you were put on earth to do with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.”
“Close friends are truly life’s treasures. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. With gentle honesty, they are there to guide and support us, to share our laughter and our tears. Their presence reminds us that we are never alone.”
“I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate.”
“Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures.”
“It is true there is ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.”
“Don’t lose heart if it’s very difficult at times, everything will come out all right.”
Madness terrified Vincent van Gogh, yet he also wondered if it was inseparable from artistic genius. I am no expert but to me, his words paint just as powerful a picture as his paintings—and I take courage and hope from the positivity and passion that lie within them.
This complex and tortured soul produced some of the most searingly honest insights into the struggles with life. And I hope as well as taking away some beautiful quotes, you take away a deeper understanding of this famous artist.
I will leave you with the completed version of the quote that I began with that I am sure many of you will be able to relate to:
“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…I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart…Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony, and music inside me.”