18yo van gogh
This is Vincent Van Gogh in 1873, prior to what I believe was chronic systemic poisoning from the paints and solvents he was using. Not every artist is as sensitive to these chemicals as he may have been and obviously not all artists react the same way, but having been poisoned myself by today’s far less toxic art supplies, I believe his, in the late 1800s, were responsible for at least some of his erratic behavior and some or much of his drinking, which I think he used in part to palliate the chemical effects of his craft.
I think these chemicals may have disturbed his sleep and twisted his dreams and I think he may have been what we might refer to as ‘touched’ by extra-sensory insights, intuitions & premonitions that he had no idea how to comprehend or assimilate, beyond painting these impressions into his canvases. Famously through the ages, psychics and empaths have been feared and misunderstood, ridiculed, jailed, and committed to asylums which of themselves, with their ghastly procedures, drugs and isolation, would drive anyone mad.
Had Van Gogh not been sensitive to the chemicals he was using, or perhaps not had some unhealthy habits — some artists routinely twirl the tip of their brushes between their lips to get a point, others have mixed even lead paints & oils with their fingers, many still use hands & fingers to smudge the canvas, unaware how neurotoxic that is, and we know that Van Gogh slept and ate in the same room as he kept his paintings, no wonder he felt attracted and compelled to represent the great outdoors — so with a slightly different lifestyle he may not have been the confused and confounded artist we’ve come to regard him as.
I am not a scholar and have not looked deeply into this issue, but I also can’t fathom why his brother, a Dutch art dealer and apparently very close to Vincent, was sending him a pauper’s monthly stipend but not also promoting his paintings as he did for Gauguin and other contemporaries. I think perhaps family is not the most objective appraiser or enthusiastic marketer of any artist’s works.
Selling his art and receiving some small stream of encouragement would have helped balance his emotional state and boosted his self-confidence, as well as his finances. No one needs to be ‘mad’ to be a great painter, and if so I think being somewhat less mad, for being somewhat less great, would be an acceptable trade-off.