Going to Paris. What Van Gogh’s arrival in Paris can teach us about timing.
Life, growth, art, and creativity.
For six long years Van Gogh sketched, painted, read, and studied his craft. His life took him too many different cities, meeting many different people, and experiencing many different misadventures. No matter what life dealt him he kept painting. The goal was to end up in Paris with his brother Theo. Over the years Vincent and Theo would talk about if it was the right time for Vincent to go to Paris. Theo was involved in the main stream art world and served as an advisor to Vincent. Theo would often encourage Vincent where to go next and would tell him it wasn’t time for him to go to Paris.
Paris represented the ultimate destination for an artist. The city offered artists with “valuable training, opportunities to exhibit and sell their work, and an inspiring artistic community” (Artist in Paris, 2018).
Vincent had exhausted his welcome at another town. He had ruined some relationships, unsettled a family, worn out his models, and ate up all the food of his sympathizers. It was time for him to leave town. That didn’t make it time to go to Paris, but what happened with his art did.
Vincent poured over another canvas. His weary models posed for hours almost falling asleep. He kept painting. Trying to get something to come out that wouldn’t. When he was finished he threw the canvas on the floor and put a clean one up to start over. He wasn’t aware of it, but what he was getting ready to paint would change everything and usher in a new era of his life.
“It was just as Pietersen had told him in Brussels; he had been too close to his models. He had not been able to get a perspective. He had been pouring himself into the mould of nature; now he poured into the mould of himself” (Stone, 1934).
After six long years Vincent had finally captured what he had been longing for. Something about this painting was different than all the others that had come before. He captured the colors that he wanted to. He captured the scene as he saw it. He captured “that which does not pass in that which passes” (Stone, 1934). He finished the painting feeling calm and peaceful. Not his usual manner. His painting had a smell and taste to it that captured what he experienced. He was pleased and this propelled him into the next phase of his artistic development and life. He was ready for Paris.
When he got to Paris his brother was waiting quietly to introduce him to something that would redefine his art. Theo introduced his brother to the Impressionists knowing that was the type of painter his brother was. Theo knew that this was what had been missing for Vincent. When Theo was exposed to other Impressionists he knew his brother was one too. He knew that it was all there and that all Vincent needed to do was to learn about the light and color. Theo told Vincent that he must “borrow from them. But nothing more. You must not imitate. You must not get swamped. Don’t let Paris submerge you” (Stone, 1934).
“You were an impressionist from the day you picked up a pencil in the Boringe. Look at your drawing! Look at your brushwork! Look at your lines! They are your impressions” (Stone, 1934).
What a beautiful moment. The moment when Theo helps Vincent put together the missing pieces. Vincent is immediately thrown into despair concerned that all his years of practicing and learning his art were for nothing. Theo says, NO! “You’ve worked out your craft for yourself. You paint like Vincent Van Gogh and nobody else in the world. If you had come here before you crystallized your own particular expression, Paris would have moulded you to suit yourself” (Stone, 1934).
The years were needed to prepare Vincent for what was to come. They were needed to prepare him to be the artist he was meant to be. If he had went to Paris too soon he wouldn’t have been ready for Impressionism. The timing was key to everything. The timing is key to everything for us. Where we are today is part of the artistic process. It’s part of our growth as artists. If we try to go to Paris before it’s time we won’t be ready for it. We won’t be ready for the opportunities, won’t have work to sell, and won’t be ready for an overwhelming community. We need some time alone to develop our craft and find our voice. All the preparation means something. It meant something for Vincent.
“One starts with a hopeless struggle to follow nature, and everything goes wrong; one ends by calmly creating from one’s palette, and nature agrees with it and follows” (Stone, 1934).
Vincent got to the end of himself. When he threw down that canvas he picked up another and started painting according to his palette and it was at that moment he was ready for Paris. The moment when he stopped following nature, the ideas of others, and started following his own way. When he poured his vision into his way of doing things. It was then he would be ready to train, would develop pieces that he could sell, and embrace an artistic community. He couldn’t embrace an artistic community until he was sure who he was as an artist. They would have moulded and shaped him into something he wasn’t. Thanks to Theo he went at the right time and became the artist he was always meant to be.
There is a right time for you and I hope you find it.
Stone, I. (1934) Lust for Life. New York, NY: Penguin.
Originally published at aprolificanthology.com on October 17, 2018.