Glitzy portrait made by Mr. Peet

“If I make better work later, I still won’t work otherwise than now; I mean it will be the same apple only riper — I myself won’t turn from what I’ve thought from the start. And this is why I say for my part, if I’m no good now, I won’t be any good later either — but if later, then now too. For wheat is wheat, even if it looks like grass at first to townsfolk”

︎ Vincent van Gogh, 1885, from: Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, Nienke Bakker (eds.) (2009), Vincent van Gogh - The Letters. Version: January 2020. Amsterdam & The Hague: Van Gogh Museum & Huygens ING. Letter 480.

“The pursuit of a dream requires dreamers (...) If we do not insist on the crucial importance of the humanities and the arts, they wil drop away, because they do not make money. They only do what is much more precious than that, make a world that is worth living in, people who are able to see other human beings as full people, with thoughts and feelings of their own that deserve respect and empathy”

︎ Martha C. Nussbaum, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 

eighty to ninety is a blog in which I aim to explore the miracle that is Vincent van Gogh’s relentless creativity in the face of loss and rejection by visiting the places where he lived and worked as an artist between 1880 and 1890.

Let me start by saying this: I am not an expert on Van Gogh. I am not an art historian. I am not even an artist.

I’ve been writing novels for the past five years. Amidst everything I don’t know about the world and being an adult in it, there’s just one thing I am sure of: I want to spend as much time as I can writing. And whilst I’ve enjoyed some successes, like many aspiring writers and creatives I’ve also experienced what felt at the time as some gutting setbacks.

Reading about Van Gogh’s life in his biographies and his letters, marvelling at his work in museums both here in the Netherlands and abroad, watching films and documentaries - all of this has helped me through the rough patches, strengthened my resolve and, most importantly, has made me count my blessings. 

Because Van Gogh never became the icon that today is the Van Gogh. Not during his lifetime. And I do not think it attests to any kind of megalomaniacal equation of my own efforts to Van Gogh’s genius to say, quite humbly, that I think I could learn a lot from comparing my own life to that of Van Gogh’s. So could everyone who’s ever tried to make something.

How did Van Gogh manage to keep going for ten years whilst so many around him mocked his art, his behaviour, his beliefs? Forget receiving a rejection email from a publisher or agent every other week, or trying to answer questions during family reunions about still not having made any “certifiable progress” in your career. Imagine encountering rejection in every conceivable form almost every single day, not just from the professional establishment, but from neighbours, and friends, and family. 

Hell, at 37, Vincent van Gogh died of old age. 

A sentence like that does not belong in a biography. Nor does it belong in an analysis of his paintings. As I pointed out, I am unqualified to write either. My interest lies in gaining a better understanding of the miracle of Van Gogh’s relentless creativity. 

In eighty to ninety I’ll be exploring the places where Vincent van Gogh lived and worked as an artist. Though the man lived a long time ago, and his world seems very different from ours, traces still linger. Looking for these traces in the modern-day world might bring Van Gogh’s experiences of creative life just a little bit closer, make it a bit easier to connect Van Gogh’s experiences of creative life with my own.

As befits any proper humanities graduate, I won’t have any clear-cut answers. Though I believe creativity is as important as it ever was, creativity means different things to different people, and Van Gogh’s work, and his story, have different meanings to each of us. So I won’t explain, but I’ll explore. Above all, visiting these landmarks as they are today, and the anachronism that entails, is fun, and I hope I’ll get to take you with me. 

© Viola van de Sandt, 2021.