Vincent Van Gogh And His Struggles With The Meaning Of Life

Vincent Van Gogh's Paintings And Writing Continue To Inspire

As a pastor's son who suffered from depression, Van Gogh was destined to explore the meaning of life deeply.
As a pastor's son who suffered from depression, Van Gogh was destined to explore the meaning of life deeply. | Source


Vincent's Colors
Vincent's Colors

This book was created by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It pairs Van Gogh's letters to his brother, Theo, with the paintings he describes. It is a beautiful volume that is as interesting as it is inspiring.


Would We Medicate The Talent Out Of Van Gogh If He Lived Today?

The brilliant artist Vincent Van Gogh lived a life fraught with depression and self doubt. Although today he is one of the most renowned artists worldwide, in his lifetime he was not well-known or successful and in fact only ever sold one painting. In a letter dated May 8, 1875, Van Gogh asserted that humans are not placed upon the earth for the purpose of happiness. He said that, instead, humans are placed on the earth to be honest and noble, to attain great achievements and to grow past the basic vulgarity that pervades existence.

Upon attending a viewing of a friend who had died in 1877, Van Gogh wrote that it seemed his friend had been freed from the burden of living. He lamented that life is made up of twists and turns that carry a person from despondency to cheer. He seemed to feel some envy for his friend, who was now free of the ups and downs of living, yet, he admitted to a certain attachment to life and the anticipation of things getting better when they have gone wrong.

Van Gogh Struggled To Make Use Of His Christian Upbringing To Deal With His Depression

Several years later, on July 7 1882, Van Gogh professed to believe that it is the will of God that men not dwell alone. He said that he felt a normal life would include a woman and child, yet Van Gogh was never to experience this sort of normal life. Nonetheless, in a letter dated March 11, 1883, he admonishes the recipient not to consider him unfortunate. He says that, even though he sometimes considers himself unfortunate, he understands that this is common to most people and is not a unique experience for him.

In later letters, the artist complains that he is disappointed in himself because he feels that he has not been able to attain his goals. Instead, he says that he is struck with sorrow because everything he does seems to be wrong. As early as February 8, 1887, Van Gogh's letters indicated that he was becoming weary of the world and tired of his pursuits. Although he quotes the words of Jesus Christ entreating him to accept the light and easy yoke of Christianity, he seems unable to follow through and relieve his apparent depression.

An Active Mind And Blazing Intelligence Led Van Gogh To Speculate On The Nature Of Existence

As Van Gogh grew older, he continued to reflect on the words of Christ in juxtaposition with the discoveries of science. In a letter dated June 26, 1888, he observes that science brings people new knowledge and varied perspectives every day. He uses the knowledge that the earth is round as an example. He says that; even though, the earth still seems flat to the casual observer, the general populace now knows it to be round. This changes the general world view. He speculates that, just as we now see life as being "flat" with a single life followed by an afterlife, it may well be that life is "round". He expresses hope that future generations will see the superior nature and greater potential of this sort of life-view.

In a letter dated June 25, 1889 Van Gogh alludes to a book he has received from his sisters called Le Sens De La Vie (The Meaning Of Life). He declares that it is rather a disappointing book since the author is apparently suffering from lung disease, and therefore, has problems in many realms of his existence. Van Gogh says that he thinks it is nice that the author enjoys spending time with his wife but that this information is of little use to him (Van Gogh) in terms of discovering the meaning of life. He says that he greatly prefers Voltaire's Zadig ou la Destinée (The Book of Fate) a work that at least approaches the subject with some passion.

In a letter dated July 2, 1889, Van Gogh expands on this theme by pointing out that people are generally unaware of all the hidden potential in life. Instead, they seem to view human existence as having attained its apex and to now be in a state of decline. He laments that people seem to be happy biding their time in tame pursuits until the end rather than actively seeking a passionate reason for living.

Is Life "Round"?

Vincent Van Gogh was born in Holland on March 30, 1853. Near the end of his short life, he wrote of missing the days of his youth. In a letter dated January 20, 1890, he laments that he is aging and that life seems to be rushing past as responsibilities mount. He expresses a need to make up for time wasted, yet realizes that this is becoming harder and harder as his depression deepens. Van Gogh sought help for his depression and seemed to be improving in May of 1890, yet he suddenly took a turn for the worse and apparently committed suicide by shooting himself in the stomach in July of 1890. He survived for a couple of days afterward and during that time was quoted as saying that his death would be "for the good of all".

The natural reaction to such an unfortunate and sad story is to remark on what a shame it is and what a waste of life, but is that true? If Van Gogh lived today, would he have the freedom or the inspiration to create his masterpieces or would he be medicated and set on a practical path to get a job, marry, reproduce and live a "normal" life?

I tend to think the latter is probably true. I believe that Van Gogh's time on this earth was just exactly as it was intended to be. Surely his brilliance, intelligence, talent and philosophical reflections have positively influenced far more people than a "normal" existence would have. Perhaps his life unfolded the best way possible for the "good of all", and perhaps if life is indeed "round" the continued joy and enlightenment his work has brought others have brought peace and contentment to his soul.

Copyright:SuzanneBennett:June 15, 2013

The paintings of Vincent Van Gogh set to Don McLean's "Starry Starry Night".

More by this Author

Comments 22 comments

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

This is the first I have read about Van Gogh's story. I have enjoyed his art work, but now I am more understanding of his expression through art. Thanks for the share. So sad that he took his life.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Yes, apparently there is some speculation about that. Some say he was shot by someone else but said he had shot himself because he interpreted his depression as a death wish. The "Five Interesting Facts About Van Gogh" HUB (in the link box) explains it well. :)

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

While Van Gogh's life may not have been the most satisfactory to him, he has surely left us with some beautiful artwork. So often art is better appreciated years later after the artist is dead. Despite the fact of his selling only one painting, that certainly did not interrupt his creating a great many more! The video at the end was good. I saw some that I had never previously viewed. Up and useful votes and will happily share.

rose-the planner profile image

rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

Van Gogh certainly led a tormented life. Unfortunately he lived in a time when mental illness was not something that was understood nor treated. I find it sad that such a brilliant artist (as was the case with many artists in the past), achieved fame posthumously. This was a very insightful and thorough article. I enjoyed it very much! Thanks for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Peggy and Rose! I'm glad his paintings were preserved, and I'm glad he lived in a time when he could just devote himself to painting and not have people interfering with him! When I was a child, people were just beginning to use anti-depressants regularly. My parents were against this practice because they felt that it was paramount to medicating a person's personality away. Of course, today antidepressants have improved in some ways and gotten worse in others, but I don't really think Van Gogh would be better off living today than in his own time. I doubt he would be able to produce the body of work he did in today's society.

I hope that life turned out to be "round" for him and after he finished his first round, he went full circle and came back in a more peaceful incarnation! :)

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

I think that I am going to start a board on Pinterest titled Art and Artists. This will be the first pin.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Great! Many thanks! :D

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

A beautiful tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. He is a legend and I love all his painting. Thanks for writing and sharing with us. Very inspiring hub. Voted up :-)


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Many thanks! :)

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

Oh, Suzanne, I had not read this about Van Gogh before, and I saddened by the fact that he took his own life. Life is a gift, and should never be returned. If he lived today, I don't know that he would become famous, with all the tech stuff, maybe he would be lost in the reproduction of art.

I am glad I read about Van Gogh, and can relate to some of his writtings.

Voted up U/A/B/I, shared and pinned on Awesome HubPages.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Shyron. If he lived today, we would just medicate him. I think his life happened just as it did at the time at it did for the purpose it had. Thanks for reading, voting and sharing! :)

MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 3 years ago from Singapore

Nice and informative post

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Came back to enjoy this again and this time will give it a tweet! Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Peggy and MG! I appreciate your visits and comments! :) Hope you are both having a wonderful winter. We are experiencing record low temps and a snowy landscape here in North Texas. :)

Evan Smiley profile image

Evan Smiley 3 years ago from Oklahoma City

I've always been slightly obsessed with Van Gogh! Have you ever watched the Vincent episode of Doctor Who?! I know it's not completely accurate, but it is so beautiful and heart-warming, and something about hearing his brilliance from his own mouth (Eh, more or less) just made me love him more! Through out the episode, they recreate his paintings as actual locations! It's brilliant!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Wow! I'll have to check that out! I have been interested in him since reading The Agony And The Ecstasy sometime in the early 1980s. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

Very interesting synopsis, and very sad. It is truly a tragedy that he did not at least meet some success while alive, although this may not have relieved his depression. Plenty of successful people are unhappy. But reading this, it seems like his death was a waste, and he felt his life a waste. Very sad for such a genius and great talent to feel this way.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Yeah, I recently wrote a series of short biographies of famous composers for a client. One thing that really struck me after doing about half a dozen was that those whose parents supported their desire to become composers lived happy, fulfilled lives. Those whose parents wanted them to do something else with their lives pretty much ended up like Van Gogh! It's been over 20 years since I read The Agony And The Ecstasy, but I believe I remember that his parents did not support his dreams. That is so important and makes such a huge difference in life.

searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 3 years ago from UK

This is beautifully written and a fitting tribute to an amazing artist. I find it astonishing the volume of paintings he produced in the year leading up to his death; everyone a masterpiece!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

True! Many thanks! :)

easefeeds profile image

easefeeds 2 years ago from Cyperspace

I have always been fascinated by Van Gogh, and I appreciate the work you did here. Looking at all your hubs, I can see you are a woman with a broad understanding of a lot of different topics.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 2 years ago from Texas Author

Many thanks! :)

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article