- Art, Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Vincent van Gogh on Art, Love, Life, Painting, and More.

 

Happy birthday, Vincent van Gogh! Here are some quotes from the artist’s letters:

 

“The sadness will last forever.”

 

“I seek, I pursue, my heart is in it.”

 

“I am not working for myself alone. I believe in the absolute necessity of a new art of color, of design and—of the artistic life.”

 

“Find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful.”

 

“The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”

 

“I also believe that it may happen that one succeeds and one mustn’t begin by despairing; even if one loses here and there, and even if one sometimes feels a sort of decline, the point is nevertheless to revive and have courage, even though things don’t turn out as one first thought.”

 

“Are we what we dreamt we should be? No, but still the sorrows of life, the multitude of things of daily life and of daily duties, so much more numerous than we expected, the tossing to and fro in the world, they have covered it over, but it is not dead, it sleepeth.”

 

“When we are working at a difficult task and strive after a good thing, we are fighting a righteous battle, the direct reward of which is that we are kept from much evil. As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.”

 

“It’s certainly true that it is better to be fervent in spirit, even if one accordingly makes more mistakes, than narrow-minded and overly cautious.”

 

“If I’m no good now, I won’t be any good later either—but if later, then now too. For wheat is wheat, even if it looks like grass at first.”

 

“If only we try to live sincerely, it will go well with us, even though we are certain to experience real sorrow, and great disappointments, and also will probably commit great faults and do wrong things, but it certainly is true, that it is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.”

 

“The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too.”

 

“And the memory of everything we have loved remains and returns in the evening of our life. It is not dead, but sleep and it is good to collect a great store of it.”

 

“One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way.”

 

“Be of good heart if things sometimes get difficult, everything will come right later on, and no one can do what he really wants in the beginning.”

 

“And the great isn’t something accidental; it must be willed.”

 

“But above all—above all—it’s only later that the artistic sense develops and ripens through working.”

 

“Even though I’m often in a mess, inside me there’s still a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest little house, in the filthiest corner, I see paintings or drawings. And my mind turns in that direction as if with an irresistible urge.”

 

“But one must learn to read, exactly as one must learn to see, and learn to live.”

 

“Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”

 

So you must not think that I disavow things; I am rather faithful in my unfaithfulness; and my only anxiety is: how can I be of use in the world, cannot I serve some purpose and be of any good, how can I learn more and study certain subjects profoundly?”

 

“Two things that remain eternally true and complement each other, in my view are: don’t snuff out your inspiration and power of imagination, don’t become a slave to the model; and, the other, take a model and study it, for otherwise your inspiration won’t take on material form.”

 

“You know, for example, that I have often neglected my appearance. I admit it, and I also admit that it is `shocking.’ But look here, lack of money and poverty have something to do with it too, as well as a profound disillusionment, and besides, it is sometimes a good way of ensuring the solitude you need, of concentrating more or less on whatever study you are immersed in.”

 

“What is true is that I have at times earned my own crust of bread, and at other times a friend has given it to me out of the goodness of his heart. I have lived whatever way I could, for better or for worse, taking things just as they came. It is true that I have forfeited the trust of various people, it is true that my financial affairs are in a sorry state, it is true that the future looks rather bleak, it is true that I might have done better, it is true that I have wasted time when it comes to earning a living, it is true that my studies are in a fairly lamentable and appalling state, and that my needs are greater, infinitely greater than my resources. But does that mean going downhill and doing nothing?”

 

“And I must continue to follow the path I take now. If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at itkeep going, keep going, come what may.”

 

“But what is your final goal, you may ask. That goal will become clearer, will emerge slowly but surely, much as the rough draught turns into a sketch, and the sketch into a painting through the serious work done on it, through the elaboration of the original vague idea and through the consolidation of the first fleeting and passing thought.”

 

“Let me stop there, but my God, how beautiful Shakespeare is, who else is as mysterious as he is; his language and method are like a brush trembling with excitement and ecstasy.”

 

“So please don’t think that I am renouncing anything, I am reasonably faithful in my unfaithfulness and though I have changed, I am the same, and what preys on my mind is simply this one question: what am I good for, could I not be of service or use in some way, how can I become more knowledgeable and study some subject or other in depth? That is what keeps preying on my mind, you see, and then one feels imprisoned by poverty, barred from taking part in this or that project and all sorts of necessities are out of one’s reach. As a result one cannot rid oneself of melancholy, one feels emptiness where there might have been friendship and sublime and genuine affection, and one feels dreadful disappointment gnawing at one’s spiritual energy, fate seems to stand in the way of affection or one feels a wave of disgust welling up inside. And then one says ‘How long, my God!'”

 

“But the sight of the stars always makes me dream.”

 

“The dreamer sometimes falls into the doldrums, but is said to emerge from them again. And the absent-minded person also makes up for it with bouts of perspicacity. Sometimes he is a person whose right to exist has a justification that is not always immediately obvious to you, or more usually, you may absent-mindedly allow it to slip from your mind. Someone who has been wandering about for a long time, tossed to and fro on a stormy sea, will in the end reach his destination. Someone who has seemed to be good for nothing, unable to fill any job, any appointment, will find one in the end and, energetic and capable, will prove himself quite different from what he seemed at first.”

 

“Do you know what makes the prison disappear? Every deep, genuine affection. Being friends, being brothers, loving, that is what opens the prison, with supreme power, by some magic force. Without these one stays dead. But whenever affection is revived, there life revives.”

 

“People are often unable to do anything, imprisoned as they are in I don’t know what kind of terrible, terrible, oh such terrible cage. I do know that there is a release, the belated release.”

 

“Is all this illusion, imagination? I don’t think so.”

 

“I feel a certain calm. There is safety in the midst of danger. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

 

“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. All right, then—even if that were absolutely true, then 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.”

 

“Great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together.”

 

“By working hard, boy, I hope to succeed in making something good. I haven’t got it yet, but I’m hunting it and fighting for it, I want something serious, something fresh—something with soul in it! Onward, onward.”

 

“There are things which we feel to be good and true, though in the cold light of reason and calculation many things remain incomprehensible and dark. And though the society in which we live considers such actions thoughtless, or reckless, or I don’t know what else, what can we say if once the hidden forces of sympathy and love have been roused in us? And though it may be that we cannot argue against the reasoning sentiment and to act from impulse, one would almost conclude that some people have cauterized certain sensitive nerves within them, especially those which, combined, are called conscience. Well, I pity those people; they travel through life without compass, in my opinion.”

 

“A weaver who has to direct and to interweave a great many little threads has no time to philosophize about it, but rather he is so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t think but acts, and he feels how things must go more than he can explain it.”

 

“Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.”

 

“The work is an absolute necessity for me. I can’t put it off, I don’t care for anything but the work; that is to say, the pleasure in something else ceases at once and I become melancholy when I can’t go on with my work. Then I feel like a weaver who sees that his threads are tangled, and the pattern he had on the loom is gone to hell, and all his thought and exertion is lost.”

 

“The thought crossed my mind, how society today in its fall, at moments seen against the light of a renewal, stands out as a large, gloomy silhouette. Yes, for me, the drama of storm in nature, the drama of sorrow in life, is the most impressive.”

 

“If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint, boy, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.”

 

“Love always brings difficulties, that is true, but the good side of it is that it gives energy.”

 

“One may try one’s best, or act carelessly, the result is always different from what one really wanted. But whether the result be better or worse, fortunate or unfortunate, it is better to do something than to do nothing.”

 

“I tell you, if one wants to be active, one must not be afraid of going wrong, one must not be afraid of making mistakes now and then. Many people think that they will become good just by doing no harm—but that’s a lie, and you yourself used to call it that. That way lies stagnation, mediocrity.”

 

“Life itself, too, is forever turning an infinitely vacant, dispiriting blank side towards man on which nothing appears, any more than it does on a blank canvas. But no matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily. He wades in and does something and stays with it, in short, he violates, ‘defiles’—they say. Let them talk, those cold theologians.”

 

“This one thing remains: faith; one feels instinctively that many things are changing and that everything will change.”

 

“I am always between two currents of thought, first the material difficulties, turning round and round to make a living; and second, study of color. I am always in hope of making a discovery there, to express the love of two lovers by a marriage of two complementary colors, their mingling and their opposition, the mysterious vibrations of kindred tones. To express the thought of a brow by the radiance of a light tone against a sombre background. To express hope by some star, the eagerness of a soul by a sunset radiance. Certainly there is nothing in that of stereoscopic realism, but is it not some thing that actually exists?”
 

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

Leave a Reply