In recent discussion amoung senior staff of the Association we discussed the concept of disability and hero. The case of Vincent van Gogh is an interesting case in point. Vincent Van Gogh lived a short life of 37 years (1853 – 1890). His paintings had a far-reaching influence on 20 century art for their vivid colors and emotional impact. He received little recognition during his lifetime. Today, he is widely regarded as one of history’s greatest painters, producing over 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches. Although he was little known during his lifetime, his work was a strong influence on the modernist art that followed. Today many of his paintings are among the world’s most recognizable and expensive works of art, fetching multlple millions.
Van Gogh’ felt he had found his true vocation as a minister or missionary but failed both academically and failed to impress the Church hiearchy. In January 1879, he took a temporary post as a missionary. Taking Christianity seriously, Van Gogh chose to live like those he preached to—sharing their hardships and sleeping on straw. His choice of squalid living conditions appalled the church hiearchy who dismissed him for “undermining the dignity of the priesthood.” His father; Theodorus thought about having his son committed to a lunatic asylum.
Van Gogh did not begin painting until his late twenties, and most of his best-known works were produced during his final two years. He suffered from anxiety and increasingly frequent bouts of mental illness throughout his life. In December 1888, frustrated and ill Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear lobe. Days later, Van Gogh was hospitalized and left in a critical state for several days.Van Gogh suffered a severe setback in December 1889 and the episodes became more pronounced during his last few years. His depression gradually deepened and at age 37 shot himself and died there two days later. Over 150 psychiatrists have label his illness with some 30 different diagnoses including schizophrenia , bipolar disorder, syphilis, poisoning from swallowed paints, epilepsy and acute intermittent porphyria, anyone of which was also aggravated by malnutrition, overwork, insomnia and a fondness for alcohol.
In modern parlance few would deny that Van Gogh had a disability To what extent did his disability affect his work is still in disputes. Was he merely an brilliant artist who had a disability or was he “abled differently”. During his lifetime few, possibly himself included saw him as a person of value. After his death some would see him as a “victim”. V for victim, value or Vincent? That is the question?