|Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, Winter 1887/88
The paintings were, of course, gorgeous to see, but I found myself equally intrigued by the narration of the museum's audio, biographical information, and quotes displayed along the walls. For instance, did you know that Van Gogh (1853-1890) only painted for 10 years? He took it up at age 27 and died at 37, the majority of his well-known works being from the last two years of his life.
Having seen a Van Gogh/Gauguin exhibit in Chicago several years ago, I thought I was coming in with a decent amount of information. But I was blown away by the difference. Why? Because of writing.
My three years of writing have been an incredible journey of learning, practice, execution, critique, repeat (eh-hem: I'm definitely NOT claiming to be in the same talent pool as Van Gogh). The steps that Van Gogh took to become such an accomplished artist (though he didn't sell much during his lifetime) were so similar to posts I've read about the writer's journey, and I found myself inspired by the man's passion for his craft.
He did everything a writer would do. He studied the masters and made copies at first, before establishing his own style. He mingled with fellow artists, learning their techniques and incorporating them into his own paintings. He understood that a great deal of failure precedes success, and that success can be followed again by failure. The described intricacy and layering process that went into creating his work was very reminiscent of creating a novel.
|Woman with Cap, 1882/83
So I finished my drawings pretty well in pencil, indeed as much as possible. Then I fixed them, and dulled them with milk. And then I worked them up again with lithographic crayon where the deepest tones were, retouched them here and there with a brush or pen, with lampblack, and worked in the lighter parts with white body color...~ van Gogh on creating Woman with Cap, 1882/83~
Outlining, character sketching, filling in the plot and setting and dialogue until a fully realized world has been created....knowing when it's done, when it needs a rest, when it needs to be polished. I could go on and on about the parallels with writing, but it's the Friday before Halloween and I've got a 4-year-old threatening to change her costume AGAIN, so I'll keep this brief and leave you with a quote from the exhibit and two paintings from the last years of his life.
|Starry, Starry Night, 1889
To me, that's what we writers strive for as we develop our craft. To imagine a world, a character, a story, and fully translate our idea onto paper. If you haven't read anything about NPR's Ira Glass and his commentary on "the gap," feel free to read his thoughts below.
|Undergrowth with Two Figures, 1890~ possibly my favorite van Gogh painting
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.
But there is this gap.
For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer, and your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit.
Most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase of years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing we want it to have.
And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s totally normal and the most important thing you can possibly do is do a lot of work.
Put yourself on deadline so that every week you will finish one story. Put yourself in a situation where you have to turn out the work, because it is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.
It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.