wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and ArtVincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art


Vincent van Gogh (1853-90)


Dutch impressionist painter (pictured right in his 1889 self-portrait)

Lived briefly in Britain in (1873-6) but painted many of his famous paintings in Arles in Provence (1886-90).

His madness (probably caused by epilepsy and now totally treatable) drove him to

  • cut his ear lobe off with a razor.Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art
  • commit suicide.

The subject of Don McLean's (pictured right) 1972 hit single, Vincent, in which he sums up van Gogh's tragic life:

“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you”.


Why was he so creative?


1. Purpose and imagination

He found purpose and inspiration from:

  • God.
  • people.
  • the beauty of nature.

He didn’t work to make money but to paint the way he wanted, however unpopular that might have been.

 Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

2. Determination, single-mindedness and energy

He tried art dealing, preaching and teaching before he finally discovered his talent for painting.

In his last two years in Arles, he painted over 200 paintings, despite constant

  • attacks of madness.
  • insults from local people.

Pictured right above is his 1888 painting of his bedroom at Arles.


3. Love of painting and concentration

Painting gave him more fulfilment than anything else, particularly after the two loves of his life rejected him.Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort”, he said (the American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt , pictured right, said the same).

He painted best when he

  • lost himself in his work.
  • concentrated on it totally.

He said in 1888:

“I’m not conscious of myself anymore… The picture comes to me as a dream”. 

 Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

4. Self-belief

Van Gogh:

  • believed in his talent (despite constant criticism and derision).
  • saw his art through his eyes and nobody else’s.
  • thought people would eventually appreciate his pictures, even though he only ever sold one of them (The Red Vineyard, pictured right) for 400 francs ($60).

His doctor (Dr. Gachet) in Arles even used his portrait (pictured right below) by van Gogh (a gift) to block a hole in his hen house. It was sold for $82.5 million in 1990.

 Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

5. Originality

His style was completely original, wanting to “always work in a personal way”. 

He revolutionized portrait painting, when it had gone completely out of fashion.


6. Inspiration from experience and experimentation

His paintings were influenced by his:

 Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

a) experience

(and thoughtful observation of the world around him).


b) extreme poverty

(that led him to draw his famous 1885 painting of a skeleton smoking a cigarette, pictured right).


c) experimentationVincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

His later work (like his famous paintings of sunflowers, pictured right) experimented with:

  • vivid colours.
  • decisive brushstrokes.


d) risk taking

He always:

  • took risks with his paintings.
  • was doggedly determined to turn inspiration into great art.

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”, he asked.


7. Pressure with peace and passion

He worked best under pressure with:

  • passion (“the fire within myself”, he called it)
  • peace of mind between his bouts of madness (anxiety harmed his painting).

 Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

8. Support

His devoted brother, Theo (pictured right), an art dealer, gave him

  • continual emotional and financial support.
  • the peace of mind to devote himself entirely to his painting.

He also discussed his work with other painters in Paris cafés (see point 9).


9. Learning

He learned from:Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

  • experimentation (and the failures that sometimes followed).
  • his love of art books and the paintings at his uncle’s home.
  • his Dutch art teacher, Ridder van Rappard.
  • Japanese art and its attention to detail (particularly in his painting The Dance Hall in Arles,1888, pictured right).
  • other artists, particularly Rembrandt, Constable, Rubens and other impressionists like Paul Gaugin (pictured right below in 1891). Vincent van Gogh - Creativity and Art

Van Gogh drew his paintings of sunflowers (see point 6 above) in 1888 for Gaugin’s bedroom, when he stayed as a guest in Arles.


10. Good health

His creativity in Provence was helped by his better health.

“Cold water, fresh air and simple good food, decent clothes and a decent bed and no women”, he recommended.


Key quote on happiness 

Happiness...lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort

(also said by Franklin D. Roosevelt).


Key quotes on work

One must work and dare if one really wants to live.

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost


Key quote on success

Our greatest achievement consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.


Key quote on stress and pain

In fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.


Key quote on quality

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.


Key quote on creativity

I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say ‘he feels deeply, he feels tenderly'.


Key quote on death

Dying is hard, but living is harder still.

Free Newsletter
Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books