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Van Gogh: A life in colour and darkness

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Jillian Doyle

on 19 May 2015

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Transcript of Van Gogh: A life in colour and darkness

Van Gogh:
A life in colour and darkness
Towards an Understanding of the Artist's Psychology

The Search for Self
Unrequited Love
Need for connection
Vincent in Love and

- Early paintings were
influenced by those around him
- Inspired by the impressionist movement
- Became acquainted with other artists: Cezanne, Toulous-Lautrec
and Paul Gaugain
- Supported by Theo
- Lived an impovrished livestyle - consuming absinthe, malnourished, found to be quarrelsome and bad tempered
"It seems as if he were two persons: one marvellously gifted, tender and refined, the other egotistic and hard hearted....it is a pity that he is his own enemy, for he makes life hard, not only for others but for himself".
- Worn out by Paris, in early 1888 he moved to Arles
- Sold one painting in his lifetime
Another failed pursuit??
Vincent the Artist
- Born March 30 1853, in Southern Netherlands
- Family of ministers and art dealers
- The "other" Vincent
- Closest to brother Theo

Vincent as a Minister
Dr. Jillian Doyle
Clinical Psychologist
Dept of Psychology

St. Patrick's Mental Health Services
Vincent the Art Dealer
Moved to Brixton where he was relatively happy in his employment
Transferred to Paris - disgruntled, dissuading customers from buying art
Employment terminated
Moved home
Psychological Profile??
Psychological Assessment??
- Piecing Together the Jigsaw
- The Letters
A Caveat:
- Psychometrics
- Therapeutic Relationship
- Subjective Experience

The Psychology of Creativity:
vanquishing our inner demons
"It is only too true that lots of artists are mentally ill - it's a life to which, to put it mildly, makes one an outsider. I'm alright when I completely immerse myself in work, but I'll always remain half crazy" November 1878
Emotional Dysregulation
- Biological Vulnerability
- Invalidating Environment
- Self Harmful Behaviours
- Art as self Regulation
"The more I am spent, ill, a broken pitcher by so much more am I an artist... this green shoot springing from the roots of the old felled trunk, these are such abstract things that a kind of melancholy remains within us when we think that one could have created life at less cost than creating art"
Perceived as a "difficult and moody" child by his siblings and servants (Butterfield, 1998)
Solitary, liked nature
School - learned to paint
Left school 16
"My youth was gloomy and cold and sterile"
- Art Dealer
- Religious

Medical Diagnoses
- Meniere’s Disease (a disease of the inner
- Porphyria (a gastro-intestinal disorder)
- Absinthe Poisoning
- Turpentine Poisoning
- Schizophrenia
- Temporal lobe epilepsy
Bipolar Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder

For a discussion of medical diagnoses see
Blumer, 2002; Jamison, 1993; Arnold, 1992
Developed a religious fervor
Decided to study theology
Supported in this by his family
Failed University entrance exam
Returned home to live
Conflict with his parents who appeared critical of him and his difficulty finding a place in the world
From childhood:
View of Van Gogh as different - An outsider
- Vincent may have perceived this as his first failure - he, unlike his brother
Theo, did not fit into the family business.
- He then returned home - a pattern which we will see repeated again and again during his life - failing and then returning home.
This suggests both the importance of home to Vincent as a secure base but also how he may never have fully separated from his parents
Another place where Vincent doesn't fit in:he is neither a member of the community nor accepted by the other ministers.
Turns to art, perhaps as a way to connect
"My only anxiety is how can I be of use in the world?"(July 1880)
- At times during this period Vincent’s decisions seem impulsive and extreme: Switches career, engages in unusual behaviours: not eating, giving away clothes and at times walks long distances
Arles - The Yellow House
Accomplished artist by 1888, although still dependent on Theo and not recognised by his peers
Continued to smoke and drink "if the storm within gets too loud, I take a glass more to stun myself", health deteriorating "indescribable anguish"
Painted avidly but mental health disimproving
Fantasy of founding an art colony
Gaugain moves in - stormy relationship
March 1889 - Left for Saint Remy
I am unable to describe what exactly is the matter with me
"horrible fits of anxiety...
feeling of emptiness.... attacks of
melancholy and remorse"
"I am rather well just now...
except for a certain undercurrent
of vague sadness"
The other Vincent
Mother's anxiety - Vincent as receptacle
Anxious Attachment
Difficulty separating - parents as secure base
Ties to his father
Crises of individuation?
Hospitalised for one year, 300 works of art.
Experienced extremes of mood, periods of psychosis and periods of great lucidity
Periods of mental illness coincide with developments in Theo's life (engagement, marriage, birth of son)
Number of suicidal gestures (consuming turpentine)
Saint Remy
May 1890, Vincent moved to Auvers-sur-Oise to be closer to Theo
Lived near his friend, and physician, Dr Gachet
Abstinent, free of seizures, first painting had been sold, continues to paint - 100 works of art in 70 days
Theo's health began to fail and the likelihood of ongoing financial support seemed less likely
Final Days
Possibly at this point Vincent saw himself as a burden and began to feel more isolated, he wrote to Theo "It is not difficult to express here my entire sadness and extreme loneliness"
He shot himself on 27th July 1890, later telling a friend "I couldn't stick it any longer, so I shot myself"
He died two days later from an infection in the gunshot wound with Theo by his side. His last words "The sadness will last forever"
Search for Self:
Difficulties from birth
Cain & Cain "Who am I?
Search for self through others
Failure to find himself in family businesses
Found himself as an artist - little recognition
Daimonic (May, 1969): individuation/ human potential/ innocence to experience
For Vincent his early experience of loss is likely to have made individuation from his family vitally important, it is possible that his difference from them reinforced this and throughout his life he battled to fulfill his daimonic destiny
Jamison (1993): Within artistic circles madness is normal, greater access to reflective thought
Concordance between emotional vulnerability and great creativity recognised since 1900's (Perry, 1990)
"If my devils are to leave me, I am afraid my angels will take flight as well" Rilke, 1875 - 1926
"I put my heart and soul into the work and lost my mind in the process" 1878
Father: It grieves us so when we see....that he literally knows no joy of life... it seems as if he deliberately chooses the most difficult path"
Mother: I am always
so afraid that wherever Vincent
may be or whatever he may do, he
will spoil everything by his
eccentricity, his queer ideas
and views on life
Art as a way to deny death
Huskler (1971) - early fantasy, the need to suffer
Ernest Becker (1973) discussed the terror of separation - isolation/ annihilation
Rank (1932) - meaning making for the artist, personal view of the world
Art as the answer to the problem of existence - art as an attempt to attain immortality
Art as a way to connect with others: otherwise rendered meaningless
Taylor (1979)Van Gogh's reflective capacity - thinking about existence - prone to suffer crises of meaninglessness from which art was an escape
Yalom (1980) to create something new, novel and beautiful is an antidote to meaninglessness.
"Well the truth is we cannot speak other than by our paintings"
July 1890
Victor Frankl (1946)
"In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning"
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