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Lessons in Letters and Sketches of van Gogh

October 23, 2009
Van Gogh "Five Men and a Child in the Snow."  March 1883

Van Gogh "Five Men and a Child in the Snow." March 1883

I stumbled across an engrossing post on the BibliOdyssey Blog, “Handshakes in Thought,where peacay shares excerpts of Vincent van Gogh’s letters and the accompanying sketches, and watercolors.  Isn’t the thought of reading someone else’s mail always so titillating?  How much more thrilling when the words are united with works of art, and lessons on life and art!

Some of van Gogh’s wisdom has been preserved for us in his letters containing timeless morsels of knowledge, beneficial especially for every artist.  Lesson 1:  Being creative or producing art is an arduous process, but with practice comes the indispensable knowledge and skills to achieve your goals.  Vincent van Gogh says to “conquer the opposition through perseverance.”

Quoted from:
To Theo from Vincent – Etten (Gelderland, Holland)
October 1881

“And now, after spending some time wrestling and struggling with nature, it’s starting to become a bit more yielding and submissive, not that I’m there yet, no one is less inclined to think so than I, but things are beginning to go more smoothly. The struggle with nature sometimes resembles what Shakespeare calls ‘Taming the shrew’ (i.e. to conquer the opposition through perseverance). In many things, but more particularly in drawing, I think that delving deeply into something is better than letting it go.

I feel more and more as time goes on that figure drawing in particular is good, that it also works indirectly to the good of landscape drawing. If one draws a pollard willow as though it were a living being, which it actually is, then the surroundings follow more or less naturally, if only one has focused all one’s attention on that one tree and hasn’t rested until there was some life in it.”

Lesson 2:  Progress inevitably involves risk, as Eleanor Roosevelt said,  “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Quoted from:
To Theo from Vincent – Arles
September 1888

“…showing the house and its surroundings under a sulphur sun, under a pure cobalt sky. That’s a really difficult subject! But I want to conquer it for that very reason.”

Lesson 3:  There will be challenges along the way.  Days you don’t think your work is good enough–keep moving forward.

Quoted from:
To Theo from Vincent – Arles
May 1888

“…And we sometimes lack the desire to throw ourselves head first into art again and to build ourselves up for that. We know we’re cab-horses and that it’ll be the same cab we’re going to be harnessed to again. And so we don’t feel like doing it and we’d prefer to live in a meadow with a sun, a river, the company of other horses who are also free, and the act of generation…”

Lesson 4:  Find inspiration in others.  Keep challenging yourself to improve.

Quoted from:
To Theo from Vincent – Auvers-sur-Oise
July 1890

“As for myself, I’m applying myself to my canvases with all my attention, I’m trying to do as well as certain painters whom I’ve liked and admired a great deal.”

Van Gogh "Pollard Willow" July 1882

Van Gogh "Pollard Willow" July 1882

Lesson 5:  “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves,” said Edmund Hillary.  Appreciate your progress; find joy in the work of your hands.

Quoted from:
To Theo from Vincent – The Hague
July 1882

“I’ve attacked that old giant of a pollard willow, and I believe it has turned out the best of the watercolours.”

Lesson 6:  Be grateful to the people who admire your talent, but don’t let your work be driven by what appeals to the masses.  Never let the opinion of the majority dissuade you from pursuing your own vision.

Quoted from:
To Theo from Vincent – Nuenen
April 1884

“…You mustn’t, whatever you do, think that I have great expectations regarding the appreciation of my work — I believe one must be satisfied if one gets to the point where one can persuade a few people of the soundness of what one is striving for and is understood by them, without exaggerated praise.

And the rest is a matter of, if something comes of it so much the better, but something that one should even think about as little as possible. But still I believe the work has to be seen, precisely because the few friends can settle out from the stream of passers-by. One doesn’t have to be guided by what the majority say or do, though.”

Lesson 7:  Never pander after profit–don’t create things merely for the money it will bring.  Eventually, quality work and true talent are recognized, purchased perhaps, and cherished–if only by a select few.

Quoted from:
To Theo from Vincent-The Hague
July 1882

“The feeling for and love of nature always strike a chord sooner or later with people who take an interest in art. The duty of the painter is to study nature in depth and to use all his intelligence, to put his feelings into his work so that it becomes comprehensible to others.

But working with an eye to saleability isn’t exactly the right way in my view, but rather is cheating art lovers. The true artists didn’t do that; the sympathy they received sooner or later came because of their sincerity. I know no more than that, and don’t believe I need to know any more.”

Appropriately, I find myself reflecting on these lessons as I peruse the results of our recent poll:  What do U want from FOTB? Overwhelmingly–you want more cheese!  Thankfully, we can provide you with more cheese here on Fruits of the Bloom’s Blog than Wisconsin could ever produce!  Second only to cheese:  more Crazy Aunt Bloom and jewelry!  Let’s face it, Crazy Aunt Bloom is one pushy old broad, so she’s here to stay!  (We can’t get rid of her–believe me, we tried!)  Caitlin is our jewelry artiste extraordinaire!  She is busily working on a new product line of baby bracelets for sweet baby girls!  The listing of that product line should begin within the next week or two.  Cheers for Caitlin!

You, Dear Bloomin’ Readers, are even willing to try some of my art–thanks for the votes of confidence!  Children’s room decor was another popular item, we’re pleased to bring you our first listing tomorrow to fill that very special slot!  We laughed awhile over the suggestion some exceptional person left:  more ampersand and cowbell.  We hear you, and we’re bangin’ our bells in your honor!  Overall, it seems like you’re pretty happy with what we’re doing in Fruits of the Bloom’s Etsy Store for which we are more grateful than you can possibly know.  ;o)  We thank you from the bottom of our little ol’ southern hearts for voting in this poll and sharing your thoughts!

Here is our promise to you:  We promise to continue making artistic, unique, impeccable quality items to accessorize your wardrobe, and decorate your home with loving care and attention to detail.  Best of all, we promise to value you– our customers and everyone who appreciates what we do, and give you great customer service with a southern hug and a smile!

*Photos of Vincent van Gogh’s sketches courtesy of BibliOdyssey Blog.  Thank you!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2009 8:42 am

    This is really encouraging. Thanks for posting! -Emily

    • October 26, 2009 11:31 am

      Thanks for reading, Emily, does help to know that all artist’s have the same struggles, eh? ;o)

  2. November 9, 2009 11:07 am

    This is so marvelous would you allow me to reprint it on my blog with a big reference to you as writer?

    • November 9, 2009 7:07 pm

      I’d be pleased as punch for you to reprint it! Thanks for the compliment, Claudia!


  3. stargardener permalink
    November 22, 2009 7:10 am

    Claudia’s post directed me here … And now I am compiling a post to direct folks here, too! Such a timely and inspirational post for me!

    Needed this reminder: “Be grateful to the people who admire your talent, but don’t let your work be driven by what appeals to the masses. Never let the opinion of the majority dissuade you from pursuing your own vision.”


    • November 22, 2009 8:05 pm

      Thanks for the compliment, stargardener! ;o) And extra-special-thanks-with-a-cherry-on-top for directing people here from your blog! I truly appreciate it!

      I wrote this post because van Gogh’s words inspired me, and maybe more importantly because I, like you and so many artists, need little boosts of encouragement and reminders.

      It can be difficult to listen to your heart if it seems no one else appreciates your passion, but that is when we really need to remember our unique point of view. Here’s hoping our little post encouraged you or someone else to keep pursuing your passion!

      Loren ;o)


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