What Can We Learn From Van Gogh?

A famous artist once said, “the heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths, it has its pearls too.” Vincent Van Gogh, a man known best for his vibrant artwork, manages to write with extraordinarily poetic eloquence. His philosophies on life are something that every artist and non-artist can learn from.

Vincent van Gogh, 1889; in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. (History Archive/REX/Shutterstock.com)

Although incredibly skilled, art students at SAS are often confined to the restrictions of the AP portfolio. There are problems that arise as a result of this. An art student who choses to remain anonymous says, “the artwork from other schools seems to be bigger, more creative, and more technically advanced than ours.” AP art student Amerens Wilson says, “The SAS art community the acceptance of different art forms.” Is lack of acceptance the problem, or is lack of variety the problem? How do we create innovative work within the confines of external exams? We learn from passionate artists. Most students at Singapore American School say that they recognise Van Gogh’s art, though they don’t know much about it. Lack of education on this subject is to our detriment, as a lot of inspiration can be derived from artists throughout history. Learning about art history can liven up artistic drive, which is often quelled by academic pressure.

“To express hope by some star, someone’s passion by the radiance of the setting sun.”

– The letters of Vincent Van gogh

Young people can be seen sporting socks or t-shirts with prints of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, but other than the fact that he cut off his ear, how much do people really know about this world renowned artist? Van Gogh is also known for his expressive works of art from the Post Impressionism era. In this era, artists continued to incorporate movement, ordinary subject matter, and the small brushstrokes that was characteristic of Impressionism.

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Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait as a Painter (1887-1888). Photograph: Van Gogh Museum

Post impressionists focused on emotion rather than realism; Subjects were distorted for dramatic effect, and colors were often unnatural. Symbolism was incorporated heavily into these works, and elements of artworks were often symbolic of ideas or concepts. Van Gogh said that one could, “express the thought of a brow by the radiance of a light tone against a dark background. Express hope by some star, someone’s passion by the radiance of the setting sun.” This sentiment is evident in Van Gogh’s Chair paintings in particular, which are thought to be highly symbolic. Van Gogh revered his friend and mentor Gauguin. Van Gogh’s own chair is very simple, and Gauguin’s chair, which isn’t even complete, is far more elaborate. It can be said that this could be attributed to Van Gogh’s admiration of the older and more established artist. (Source)

A History of Culture in 100 Sofas (and other furniture) - 3 ...

Along with his appreciation for symbolism, Van Gogh also laments the importance of closeness to nature. “Do go on doing a lot of walking and keep up your love of nature, for that is the right way to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love her and teach us to see.” Van Gogh’s used nature as a subject very frequently, and according to the Van Gogh gallery, “Van Gogh’s landscapes were directly related to his thoughts about life and death.”  Appreciating art starts with noticing the little things, as does appreciating life. For people just looking for inspiration, nature seems to be the best source.

The most important thing we can learn from Van Gogh is that lack of validation does not equate to lack of excellence. He said, “Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures.” Van Gogh was a pioneer for art, though he was afflicted with mental health problems in the latter part of his life. In 1890, he shot himself and died two days later. Van Gogh’s talent went unnoticed during his lifetime, and he never lived to see his rise to fame.

“Painters understand nature and love her and teach us to see.”


Van Gogh’s legacy teaches us to understand our emotions, to observe the world around us and to stop chasing clout. So next time you’re starved for inspiration, take notice of little things around you. Appreciate a fluffy pigeon, or take a walk in the SAS rainforest (yes—we have a rainforest). By practicing observation, any environment can be interesting. Whether the constraints are inflicted by yourself or college board, “If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

“Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures.”

– The letters of vincent van gogh

Author: Tia Remedios

Tia Remedios is a senior at Singapore American School and this is her first year working with The Eye. She was born in Melbourne and raised in Mumbai, but she considers Singapore her home. She spends her time reading, painting portraits, and listening to rap music. You can contact her at remedios45830@sas.edu.sg

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