Finding Inspiration in Vincent Van Gogh

(All information gathered for this post came from the Van Gogh Museum).

Happy Birthday, Vincent Van Gogh! Gogh was born today (March 30) in 1853.

I was going to write about Van Gogh’s life at first, but I thought it  too generic of a post. Instead, I have decided to focus my writing on what I find inspiring about Van Gogh.

He Didn’t Find His Calling In Life Right Away.

“In the meantime, though, what should I do? What would you think best?” (Van Gogh to Theo, Brussels, 2 April 1881).

I always enjoy hearing stories about people who found their calling, and success, later in life. This gives me hope that my true calling is out there and there is still more to look forward to.

Though today Vincent Van Gogh is recognized as a talented painter, unfortunately, his fame came after his death.  In fact, he didn’t really start focusing on painting until he was around 27. (Van Gogh Museum)

At an early age Van Gogh realized that school was not for him and he dropped out. He bounced around various job including working as a teacher’s assistance, as a bookseller and as a preacher. At the age of 24 friends and family of Van Gogh feared that he had no direction in life. (Van Gogh Museum)

At the suggestion of his brother, Theo, Van Gogh began focusing on painting and eventually it became obvious to Vincent that he had found his passion.

To me, Van Gogh serves as a reminder that there is no time limit to discover your talent and passions. Though society tells us that at a young age we have to have life figured out, this is not true. I remember being 18 and trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life, what I wanted to study, and where I wanted to go to college. I had no life experiences, but I was expected to make decisions that would affect me for the rest of my life. I don’t have everything 100% figured out yet, but I know I have time because of Van Gogh’s example.

Van Gogh also serves as a reminder that thinking, and times, change. While he was not an established artist when he was alive, today he is highly celebrated around the world. Whenever I feel like my ideas seem crazy to everyone else, or I will not accomplish anything, you never know what the future holds. Things can drastically change! Theyc can change in a moment, or in Van Gogh’s example, it can take DECADES. Either way, don’t give up, keep trying, keep “painting” like Van Gogh did.

A Person is More than Their Mental Illness.

“I well knew that one could break one’s arms and legs before, and that then afterwards that could get better but I didn’t know that one could break one’s brain and that afterwards that got better too” (Vincent Van Gogh. To Theo from Arles, 28 January 1889)

Living with a mental illness is a challenge. I personally know. It’s easy to fall into the trap of identifying yourself, and others, by their illness. But a person is way more than their illness.

Many people know that Van Gogh struggled with a mental illness. The first clear sign was when he cut his hear off. Days leading up to the infamous event, friends of Van Gogh notice that the artist was agitated. One of his friend, and roommate, threatened  to leave Van Gogh. This did not sit well with Van Gogh so he threaten his friend with a knife, but ended up using the knife on himself and cut his ear. (Van Gogh Museum)

After he cut off his hear he was sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he stayed for months. He would write letters to his brother that described both good days and bad days.

Eventually  he was released, but his mental health continued to be unstable. He had to be admitted again to the psychiatric hospital. During his second visit, he painted 150 works!

Again he was eventually released from the hospital for a second time. Unfortunately his time away form the hospital would end in tragedy. Van Gogh would later commit suicide.

What caused the artist to commit suicide? We will never know but it is widely believed that his mental illness, belief that he was a failure and worries about the future lead to his tragic end. For example, Theo, Van Gogh’s brother, shared with Vincent that he was thinking about leaving his job at the art gallery where he had worked for years. For Vincent, this created the profound worry of money problems because he relied on his brother for financial support. It is believe that the anxiety overwhelmed Vincent and this lead him to commit suicide.

I can only image what is what like living with a mental illness during Van Gogh’s time. Though we have come a long way in modern times about understanding mental illness, and taking strives to end the stigma that still surrounds it today, life was different back then. When Van Gogh was admitted to the psychiatric hospital the first time they diagnosed him as having “madness”, not a term that is used today because of the major stigma it enforces. Of course they didn’t have the medical knowledge, or resources, to properly treat and diagnose Van Gogh. This must have been a huge struggle for Van Gogh daily.

Though he struggled with his mental health, he is not defined by his mental illness. People first think of him as an artist, and they should. Van Gogh was an artist and used his passion to express himself, even when he was in the depths of his illness. This helps remind me that I still have passions, talents and I am NOT define by my mental illness. I am more. Van Gogh was more.

I am also happy that Van Gogh sought treatment for his mental illness. Today, even with our medical advances and improved attitudes on mental illness, people are still afraid and ashamed to seek the help they need. The stigma, and shame, was probably worse back then but Van Gogh still went. He went twice! If Van Gogh can seek treatment for mental illness so can you! So can anyone.

I’m happy that the Van Gogh Museum has other articles related to Van Gogh’s mental health:

On the Verge of Insanity

The End of a Difficult Road

Thank you Van Gogh for inspiring me and others.

(All information gathered from the Van Gogh Museum)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: