Van Gogh’s advice to a young artist
“In order to write a book, do a deed, paint a picture with some life in it, one has to be alive oneself.”
August already?? As we plunge reluctantly into this final phase of summer, I thought it might be useful to highlight some advice that Vincent van Gogh gave to his youngest sister, Wilhelmina, in summer/fall 1887. I like this advice because it feels seasonally appropriate but also because it’s the opposite of what you might expect from Van Gogh, that famously tortured soul, and feels extra persuasive as a result.
Van Gogh was, of course, a merciless taskmaster when it came to his own painting, constantly pushing himself to improve his skills and forge the proper expression for the “power seething” within him, as he put it in 1882. But when fifteen-year-old Wilhelmina, or Wil, asked for some advice about her fledgling literary efforts, and floated the idea of studying writing, Van Gogh came back with this: