Chapter 4 of Roberts' book, Creative Authenticity, is about what he calls The Van Gogh Syndrome. By this, the author refers to the representation of Vincent Van Gogh as a tortured genius who did some crazy things and wasn't appropriately recognized for his work. Roberts declares: I don't think any one person has done more damage to our perception of the creative process than Vincent Van Gogh. The point he's making in this short chapter is that the creation of a strong body of work occurs only when an artist applies level-headed discipline and long-term consistency rather than being governed by episodic eccentric and lunatic acts. He supports that opinion by noting that most great art is created through a disciplined process and that, Vincent, who only painted during the last eight years of his life, produced his best works from a fifteen month period of focused effort. Roberts adds that it is those later focused paintings that gained Vincent recognition during his lifetime. However, the glimmer of success was unnerving to him; Vincent wrote Success is the worst thing that can happen not long before delivering the fatal bullet to his body.
So, Roberts concludes that the Van Gogh Syndrome, or myth as he refers to it, isn't useful to artists because it instills the idea that our creative genius must spring from lunacy when, in fact, it must be logical, deliberate and purposeful in a consistent manner. I'll add to this that a little lunacy doesn't hurt. I mean, take a look at Starry Night above. What a fascinating authentic painting! I could look at it for hours. But, I won't go so far as to stir my coffee with a loaded paint brush like Vincent did. My form of lunacy will have to emerge from a non lead-based source!
But, there's another point I'd like to make that Roberts seems to have missed. One of the reasons we like Van Gogh's story is because it's about overcoming adversity to create amazing works of art! Poverty and lunacy didn't stop him. It's an inspiring story and gives us all the hope that whatever assails us in life can be used to our advantage. And, his story gives us hope that our art can be significant, authentic and meaningful even if it doesn't sell. And, Vincent's openness about himself, his passions and his fears, gives us courage to be honest with ourselves so that we may face our own particular set of challenges. His suicide is also a reminder of what he could have accomplished had he chosen to live beyond the age of 38, and what we might create during our advancing years. So, Ian Roberts, although I see your point, I also like to look at the other side of this coin. There's inspiration on it.
One last thing Mr. Roberts: when you wrote I don't think any one person has done more damage to our perception of the creative process than Vincent Van Gogh you should have taken into account that Vincent only lived his life - it was others who later created the myth.