Thursday, February 5, 2015

What a Writer Can Learn from Van Gogh by Alison Henderson

“The way to know life is to love many things.” ~ Van Gogh

I was an Art History major in college, and Van Gogh has always been one of my favorite painters. When I chose art posters for my freshman dorm room (no rock stars for me) I included one of Vincent’s olive groves. I now have a wonderful old, gnarled olive tree in my backyard that reminds me of that painting every time I go outside.



Take a look. Can you see the essence of my olive tree in this picture Van Gogh painted after committing himself to an asylum?



“The way to know life is to love many things.”

I had never read this quote before, but it sums up what I love about his work. There is nothing pale, passive, or lukewarm about a Van Gogh painting. He clearly loved his subjects as much as he loved the psychological and physical act of painting. His passion is evident in every color, every brushstroke. The viewer cannot observe Van Gogh from an emotional distance. And isn’t that what we seek to do as writers—create a compelling and immediate story that sucks readers in from the first words?

So what can we as fellow artists take from this quote? We may not be painters, but we need Van Gogh’s passion in our work. In order to write well we need to know life. We need to love many things.

We need to love the world around us with all its sights, sounds, and smells in order to create vivid settings that will resonate with our readers and draw them into our stories. We need to love people as a whole. We need to find human beings fascinating to give our characters individuality and depth. We need to love the strength of the human spirit.

I’m not suggesting we all need to pay the steep price Van Gogh paid for his gift, but I believe that if we open ourselves to loving many things, that love will enrich our work.

Alison
www.alisonhenderson.com
http://alisonhenderson.blogspot.com 

17 comments:

Margo Hoornstra said...

Never stop loving, it restores our life. Great advice, Alison. Without passion for writing - and the people we write about - why bother? I envy you the olive tree in your backyard. What a great reminder of what you have loved.

Rebecca Grace said...

Alison,
Great blog, and the premise is so right. As writers we need to open ourselves up and look around. Observe and as I often tell my family, just absorb the ambience of what is around us. I love artists like Van Gogh. I don't know if I understand art, but visually it moves me.

Jana Richards said...

I think to be a writer, or any kind of artist, you must be interested in the world around you. You have to observe and attempt to understand, and feel empathy and love for your subject. That holds true whether you're painting olive trees or writing about a complex character.

Jannine Gallant said...

Very well said, Alison. Passion is the key to writing. (And not just the kind our characters engage in behind closed doors! LOL) On a side Van Gogh note...my daughters' Nordic team voted for race tights printed with Starry Night. By far, they have the coolest tights on the race course!

Alison Henderson said...

Margo, you are so right. Without passion, why bother?

Alison Henderson said...

Rebecca, observation and finding out what moves us is what it's all about.

Alison Henderson said...

Jana, you summed it up perfectly: observation, understanding, empathy, and love!

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, please, please, please post a picture of the girls in their Starry Night race tights. I would love to see those! I have a pair of Starry Night knees socks, but race tights would be fabulous!!

Nan Dixon said...

What a lovely post, Allison! Van Gogh is one of my favorites too. Love his Starry, Starry night. (Although Degas and his dancers are at the top of my list.)
I think the best creative people let their passion shine through their work.
Thanks for giving us that reminder.

Hebby Roman said...

What a beautiful post, Allison!!! I was a business major, but the famous biography about Van Gogh that the old movie was based on is how I learned about art, since I wasn't around much art, growing up in West Texas, but was always a reader. It was that book that got me interested in art and particularly the Impressionists. So, a Van Gogh print I've had for over 30+ years graces my study where I write. His story and paintings are what turned me on to art. I owe Van Gogh a huge debt!!!

Jannine Gallant said...

I posted a pic of the tights on FB, Alison, since I couldn't figure out how to do it here!

Barbara Edwards said...

I agree about the need to love and the more you love the more you understand life.

Alison Henderson said...

Nan, I can't imagine anyone not loving Starry Night. Van Gogh put so much emotion into that sky.

Alison Henderson said...

Hebby, I'm not surprised Van Gogh led you to appreciate art. His paintings reach out and touch the soul.

Alison Henderson said...

Barb, I think that's part of the wisdom of aging. The longer we're around, the more we love and the more we understand.

Leah St. James said...

Love your insights, Alison! You're so right.

Leah St. James said...

Love your insights, Alison! You're so right.