In late July 1890, Vincent Van Gogh walked into the wheat fields with his easel, palette, paints and a pistol. There have been many disputes about what happened that day, but ultimately Vincent Van Gogh died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen at the ripe old age of 37. Why? There is evidence to suggest he suffered from mental illness. He may have been manic-depressive. In my opinion though, Vincent gave up.
In his lifetime Van Gogh produced over 2,100 works of art and he sold only one. Many he gave away in exchange for rent, food, etc. and many more sat stacked away in his workrooms or attics or in the home of his brother. As talented as he was, and as famous as he is now, Van Gogh had very little recognition as an artist in his own time. Day after day he painted and sketched and waited for the world to "get it," yet it didn't.
Are you a Vincent? Are you waiting for the world to see and understand what you do? Perhaps your paintings aren't selling, your book still hasn't been picked up by a publisher or the recording industry hasn't yet recognized your vocal talents. Don't give up. Do what you do, if only for yourself, and follow a few simple rules.
1. Don't forget about "Art for Art's sake." When it comes down to it, we don't start out as artists with the intention to make lots of money. Our art is what we do for expression, therapy and love. Money is not really part of the equation when it comes to pure Art. They're called "starving artists" for a reason.
2. Don't let Life tell you that what you do is not important. It is important. Maybe not to society as a whole, but in some way it is important. Maybe just to keep your sanity in check, but that's pretty darn important.
3. You may not see the impact in your lifetime, but it will come. Unless you believe the writers of "Doctor Who," Vincent Van Gogh never saw the effect his work has had on the world. (Best DW episode ever, by the way.) He went into that wheat field and to his grave an utter failure. Today, his works are priceless. So does that mean you'll be famous after you're dead? Probably not, but someone somewhere along the line is going to see what you've done and be impacted by it. It may be your granddaughter who, years from now, finds the stack of binders full of your poetry and thinks, 'Wow, Grandma was a writer!' Maybe it will inspire her to write. Or your drawings will inspire another generation to sketch. Who knows?
4. Don't believe that you can't have it or do it all. Maybe you're a new spouse, new parent, recent graduate. Don't think that these changes make you less of an artist. Don't let anyone tell you that your passion is frivolous and should be abandoned. Of course, you can't forget your responsibilities. However, don't let responsibility bury your identity. You are not just so-and-so's parent, or spouse or employee. You are you. The Artist. Don't feel as if you're wasting time when you engage in your passion. Feed it and let it feed you. You and your spouse and children and boss will all be the happier for it!
5. Don't give up. Never give up. Graciously accept constructive criticsm, but let negativity roll off your shoulders. Don't worry about what people say about you and what you do. It isn't for them. Maybe they'll call you crazy, or roll their eyes or make a face. Keep doing it. Forget about money and recognition and understanding and just make Art. Paint, write, sing, dance, compose, sculpt, act, etc. Just don't give it up. Be inspired. Let your joy, pain, dreams and desires push you to new heights. Be unafraid to take it a step further, to do more than you think you are able.
I've seen a little saying posted here on facebook a number of times: "The Earth without Art is just 'Eh.'" How true. As artists, it's hard to imagine a world without Art. But just as important, the Art world needs you. Don't put your paints away, don't stick your poetry notebook under the bed, don't throw away that piece of music that "just isn't right yet." Remember Vincent, depressed and frustrated and misunderstood, walking into the wheat field for the last time. Think of how much more he could have done, and continue on for your sake and for his.
Be beautiful, my friends. Be quirky and wild and weird. Be passionate and fierce.