“The world only concerns me in so far as I feel a certain debt and duty towards it and out of gratitude want to leave some souvenir in the shape of drawings or pictures – not made to please a certain tendency in art, but to express sincere human feeling.” — Vincent van Gogh
Did you know that in his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh earned only $109 from all his paintings? Granted, $109 was worth more back then than it is now, but if he were living today he’d be a millionaire.
I uncovered this fact in a book that was recommended to me recently: If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. It’s a skinny thing I started the other night just before nodding off. Sleepiness aside (it had nothing to do with the material I was reading), I didn’t forget to dog-ear the corner of page 19, where Ueland says:
“By painting the sky, van Gogh was able to see it and adore it better than if he had just looked at it. In the same way…you will never know what your husband looks like until you try to draw him, and you will never understand him unless you try to write his story.”
Can’t most of us writers completely relate? Okay, I will not speak for all of you, perhaps, but I’m thinking about what Natalie Goldberg said in Writing Down the Bones, about how “Writers live twice.” We live first through our experiences, and a second time through writing about them.
How much richer are our experiences when we pull back to reflect on them, then fashion a story about them? This, to me, is one of the most wonderful aspects of writing! It is why I can’t ever imagine not writing. Life comes alive to me through recounting things with which I have had a face-to-face encounter (including things unseen). Everything has more meaning. And writing carries with it the added benefit of potentially giving life to others through the sharing of our accounts – icing on an already delicious cake.
Once, when I shared a piece of my writing with someone who doesn’t really understand the writer’s world, he called me a brooder, hinting that I was wasting time dwelling on what has already taken place.
Au, contraire! Of course, he is entitled to his opinion, but to me, this is the very definition of writing and why it’s so important; in fact why any expression of art is important. Van Gogh painted sunsets and other nature scenes based on what he had seen and experienced. After capturing those scenes in his mind and brooding on them, he offered his impressions to the rest of the world. And we are all the richer because of it.
Do not discount what you are meant to do as a writer even if others don’t understand it. Keep at it. After all, who knows when your version of the world might help change it?
Q4U: What most compels you to write?