On Not Being Van Gogh

Even as a kid of twenty, before I was particularly good at anything, I always saw my limited artistic abilities in the context of Vincent Van Gogh. I could do cartooning, photography, and had begun to write poetry and songs. I wasn’t great at any of those things, mainly because I refused to ever take a single course in learning how to become better at any of them. By the time I was mature enough to take courses, I was way past the intro course level, and too “unskilled” for advanced ones.

By this point, my late twenties, I had been published as a poet in 3 or 4 journals and had been offered (and turned down) a job working as a travel promotion photographer for the state of Virginia. I played percussion well enough for drum friends to encourage me to become serious, and I’d always wanted to learn to play the bass, but I didn’t try. I had a career, and had decided it was time to to “grow up” past artistic endeavors.

I believed that while I could develop my talent, no one but close friends would ever “get” my work. I was too different than others – people didn’t know what to make of me. I was like Van Gogh, just far less talented, without the Temporal Epilepsy.

So I moved on to life. But when that life fell apart, when my best friend and the love of my life had a meltdown and retreated to a cave in New Mexico, I decided to try being an artist. The alternative would have been to die without having left anything to show my descendents I once had talent and aspirations.

But the voice in my head was still there, the one that said, “They always teased you, never got you, never will.” Even when I allowed myself to hope that one day people would see what I write, even the stuff I never share, and appreciate it, I never believed it would be during my lifetime. The work, when it’s good, never comes from me. It’s not for me. However, I really need it to be. I struggle, daily, with the idea of doing work for myself or my “legacy.”

So I published my 1st book. It’s good, I know. I also know it’s not as good as the 2nd, and nowhere as good as the 3rd or the ones that followed. And, as I expected, a dozen or so kind people bought it right away, then, nothing. So I was right, another Van Gogh, waiting for the world to change enough that what he had was considered talented.

I didn’t want to be him. After all, he killed himself at 37. Loser. Except … he didn’t. Now, it appears, he was bullied his entire life, fought through the epilepsy and anguish, had become upbeat, was shot, perhaps accidentally, and died protecting his attackers. A death even nobler than his life. A life-long depressive who turned the art world on its ear by use of vivid color and imagery. A man who was sad because he saw life in such rich colors, but could never connect with another enough to get a single one to see it.

That, my friends, has always been my tragedy. Only a small group of people have I ever gotten to see the world through my eyes. So, given the silence of the rest, I “knew” my inner critic was right. I was an untalented Van Gogh, too weird to connect, to limited in scope to be discovered post death.

And, being only 1/2 artist, and 1/2 Vulcan-logician, why bother, if they’ll never love it? Right?

Now, faced with a random 60 Minutes story about Van Gogh, on a program I haven’t watched in over a decade, I have to reevaluate truth. My all-time tragic hero wasn’t so tragic. He was just alone.

And, that is my only real tragedy. I am reeling because “They” hated my photography when I went public with my own website. My favorite comment was “arrogant, untalented hack.” How can a photo be arrogant? They won’t even look at my book pages, won’t get past Chapter 4, when They realize it’s not a comedy after all. Certainly won’t get past the mid-point, when furry dragons appear, or past the climax, when fear and hatred and lies we tell ourselves are shown to be the villain. If They pick up Emprise, They won’t know what to do with a piece of Fantasy fiction rife with  mythical creatures that is secretly my story of God and the Universe. The doubters, the haters, the normal ones, They will stumble over Roxx, not seeing her story but only the fact that her love interest is a woman. And sure, in the latter half of this century, no one will blink at this minor point, but for now, They won’t love my Roxx and will hate Trint. And They won’t love Eddie Daley like I do, and will laugh at the idea two sisters could be in love with him.

They will never get my work.

Well, fuck “Them.”

In truth, I’m not reeling from Them at all. I’m reeling from myself. I fell in love, lost my best friends (3 of them), lost a daughter, lost the (not-quite) love of my life, and lost my robust health, in less than a year. That’s probably a lot to lose. So now I realize I need to revisit my inner Van Gogh. I need to consider not committing one more artistic suicide. Perhaps my bullies are wrong, the silence is lies, and the dreams within my books are the truth. Maybe my work is the picture of mediocrity or evidence of a lack of talent …

… or maybe they are whispers from God.

So I will try not to worry about selling the damn books anymore. I’m sure Maria will need to keep me focused, as she has done since we met. But, like Vincent, I suppose I am to keep cranking the work out, mediocre or not. Perhaps in time, the definition of mediocrity will shift and my work will slide from the shadows into the since. Or, maybe … just perhaps, God wants me to tell “Them” to shut the fuck up.

For Vincent.

9 thoughts on “On Not Being Van Gogh

  1. Life, like wading through clay,
    Heavy with the musk of past enterprise;
    Heavy with the chain of disquietude;
    Misinterpreted by all as platitude,
    Then respawned as something less ordinary,
    Cumbersome in the eyes of the ones
    Who seek power, soft and resplendent
    In the minds of those who would create anew.
    Your gift lies awaiting, beneath the shadow
    Of your temporal mask;
    The hot breath of time upon your brow
    Reminding you to be ever present in your
    Journey forth. Let it all go,
    Be free,
    Allow the shimmering grace within you
    To charge forth and lead you to a new canvas,
    And a new perspective of youth unclaimed.

    I love you mi amor…


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