Vincent Van Gogh was an amazing man. With almost no income (his brother, an art dealer, agreed to support his art), no hope of praise or success as an artist, and fighting the illness that finally took his life, he created. He created almost every day. He was passionate about what he did, working himself into a fury to finish paintings. In the midst of mental illness and epilepsy, he created some of the most beautiful works of art ever created.
Although I don’t recommend obsessing to the point that Van Gogh did, I find his work admirable, far beyond that of its beauty. I admire his tenacity, doing what he had to in order to improve his art. He practiced every day, often painting the same subject over and over in order to get it right. When he made a mistake, he worked hard to improve. Nothing stopped him from following his creative impulses. Even though the conventions of the art world at the time scoffed at his work, he has become one of the most loved and respected painters ever.
Every single person could learn from this. I fall directly into that category. Almost all artists that I have met, no matter their medium, have struggled with fear, judgment of their own work and judgment from others, and the inability to see a future in their art. But, as Van Gogh seemed to intuitively know, there is worth in creation for its own sake, no matter what praise or compensation is given, if any at all.
I have been an amateur musician since I was a kid. I always loved to sing, I play guitar and ukulele, and have spent a lot of time learning the art of songwriting. I have even recorded and produced my own seven song EP, each song written and performed by myself. And although I have received some compliments on my songwriting, I became frustrated as a performer when I didn’t receive the accolades that some of my friends did. I found it demoralizing. I found it hard to create new songs and perform them when there was no reinforcement for my hard work.
When I became frustrated, I thought of Van Gogh. Vincent had such a passion for his work that those external rewards, though something he craved, did not dictate his work. He painted what he saw and felt and what held meaning for him. He created in the face of adversity. He created because he loved to, not because he would gain followers for his art (although he did have that dream). In the end, he painted because he was a painter, and that is what he did.
“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
We could all learn something from Van Gogh and Rilke, as in the quote above. If it is in your soul to create, then you should follow that passion, even if there are no external rewards. If you feel your life is not worth living without creating, then you should do so.
Does it matter if no one wants to buy your first novel? Does not selling it stop you from writing in the future? I hope not. Does it really matter if you can’t get that gallery show that you have been working toward? As much as it may hurt, don’t let that stop you from painting. You may not have discovered your audience yet. Van Gogh’s audience never came in his lifetime, but now, billions of people know his name and his art. Imagine how much less beautiful the world would be without Starry Night or Irises. And how much less is the world worth without your art?
Keep creating. The effort is worth the time and energy. Let go of the need for external rewards. Create because it is what you were meant to do.