What We Can Learn from Van Gogh

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I never knew much about Vincent Van Gogh; to me he was just a celebrated visual artist and since I am not very keen on visual art I never know what all the fuss was about. However, this all changed when I saw the trailer of the animated film Loving Vincent.

I agreed to go with my friends to the cinema and see the movie and I ended up crying at the end of the film and feeling emotional like never before. I said to myself: “Van Gogh was great, I wish he could hear me right now.” I started researching his life and I must admit I learned an important lesson about mental illness.

To begin with, the movie is about Armand Roulin, a young man who tries to find out the reality of Van Gogh’s death. In a flashback, the film tells the story of the historic painter, who lived in Netherlands in the 19th century. Growing up in a religious family, his father was a minister and he had a brother and three sisters.

Van Gogh suffered from a severe mental illness (which is believed to have been bipolar disorder) and showed signs of depression, but his case became extreme when he cut off his own ear for unknown reasons. He never got along with his parents and felt neglected and alone; his only friend was his brother Theo.

Later in the film, Roulin discovers that after years of treatment by Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh shot himself because he thought killing himself was the best for everyone else.

That was the part that made me wonder what would have happened if Van Gogh was loved and supported by the people around him. He was unsuccessful in his time although he is considered the father of oil painting today, and he came up with genius techniques that changed art forever. What if he was appreciated more while he was still alive? What if his father and mother had given him the love and attention he deserved? What if the world had paid more attention to his great art? Would he still have killed himself?

His letters were usually addressed to Theo as he was the one who provided him with money and supplies to continue painting. He would tell him things like “I dream my painting and I paint my dream,” and “The sadness will last forever,” before concluding each letter by signing “Your Loving Vincent.”

Van Gogh left us not only with great artworks, but also literary masterpieces; his letters to his brother are of great value to readers around the world, and if there is a lesson we can learn from him about mental illness it would be that love and appreciation can make all the difference in battling this disease.

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