Vincent van Gogh was an artist.
Without further ado, he cut off his own ear.
Now, I don’t think you care what Van Gogh created. At this point, all you want to hear about is the ear. Rhyme, oxymoron, pun, and callousness all in one sentence — I am an artist and I know it.
All sources on the Internet agree on a common premise for Van Gogh’s reaction: he was pissed off. It’s exactly what he was pissed about that wasn’t clear. But the latest finding is out.
His brother, Theo, who was supporting him financially got engaged. Which, at least according to Van Gogh, meant: he wouldn’t be able to make art anymore.
At first, I thought Van Gogh was yet another loony artist driven to madness by his own talent. But when you consider the new-found evidence, his act seems somewhat justified. In fact, it’s understandable although he could have chosen an organ less graphic — maybe a toe or something.
For Van Gogh, not having the money from his brother meant he would’ve to find a regular job and do jobby things like asking everyone about their weekend, instead of painting. And that really pissed him off. Who wouldn’t be?
Feeling down in the dumps is the natural emotional state for most artists when they are obsessing over their art. The funny thing is you can easily rid yourself of this feeling by not making art in the first place. But that’s absolutely crazy. Because it will only make you feel worse. What a life. How precious.
It’s one thing when you fail to please someone else and feel discouraged, but it’s a whole other can of earlobes when you are robbed of the opportunity to do what pleases you. That’s the discouragement of an artist. The one Van Gogh must have felt.
But this kind of misery is becoming rare. An artist back in the day would turn to his art to turn inward. And (s)he would listen to the emotions of the inside to make art.
Now, misery is not getting enough likes.
Anyone need an ear?
An artist’s emotion is of the inside. It’s what helps make art. These emotions are now darkened by the contrived externality that’s social approval. Art has become wrapped up with emotions of the outside. The usual justification is that Social media is a great dump yard to sell your art. But it’s an even better place to feel like shit. And stop making art entirely.
That’s what happened to the friend who inspired me to write this essay. She didn’t cut off her ear or anything, but she just couldn’t fathom how no one would like the sketches she put so much effort creating. She called to figure out what kept me going.
And there’s only one answer to that — now, before, after: the art.
That’s the inspiration. At the core, it is a mechanism of self-containment, self-preservation. And it is hard work. It’s not easy to accept your own work. And you can become self-critical in a really mean way. The only thing that matters for an artist is that he/she likes his/her own work enough to move on to the next.
Everything else is secondary — at best, a feedback mechanism if you are careful enough. And if you aren’t careful — before you know, you will be brooding over the fact that no one loves you.
Err, the art?
I don’t want to take away all the great opportunities the web has given people. But, when you objectively think about it, how many self-contained artists has it really spawned?
The hero’s journey of an entrepreneur always starts as an artist. The hamartia comes when (s)he becomes a salesman.
For every story of a you-tuber that made it big by talking to people about absolutely nothing in particular, filling people’s void with nothingness, there’s many a potential artist that has fallen through the cracks of not getting enough traffic.
The world is rife with opportunities and yet it’s never been harder to make art. The idea has become more about luck and less about creation. That one viral reaction and you are off. At least for a short while. You go from darkness to spotlight, overnight. And the other way around. Over and over. How did it come down to this?
But, here she is, now, contemplating if she should sketch at all. That’s no reason to quit. You can’t let the reaction of half-conscious dim wits determine what gives you meaning.
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. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.