Vincent & the Monkey

Long after his death, Vincent van Gogh has been diagnosed with everything from schizophrenia to syphilis. He may have been bipolar or epileptic, eaten too much paint or drunk too much absinthe. Did van Gogh hear the voice of the inner critic, that toxic monkey endlessly jabbering in his head? Certainly. He had plenty of problems and one or more of them led to the events of 27th of July, 1890, when he shot himself, in the chest, in a wheat field. He hung around for another day and a half, said, “The sadness will last forever” and died.

Van Gogh was 37 and he had been painting for just ten years. In that time he accomplished so much, producing hundreds of beautiful works of art that have influenced artists ever since. His life, short though it was, left ripples.

But what if he hadn’t cut his life so short? What if he had lived to 86 like Monet? Or 84 like Matisse? Or 91 like Picasso? What might he have accomplished if he’d lived a full and complete life? What paintings might now hang in museums? What directions might he have taken the art world? How might we all see differently than we do? Try to imagine all he never had the chance to imagine.

So much beautiful art has been made through the course of human history. But there is so much beautiful art that never was made, never sketched or painted or framed or hung. The monkey voice does the job of that pistol in Auvers-sur-Oise every day, cutting creative careers short, stifling ideas, throwing up roadblocks to new horizons. Every time the monkey forces a creative person to give up, the world is robbed of ideas that could lead to more ideas that could lead to answers and inspiration and gasps of delight.

The fact is, you can’t know what impact your work could have on the world. Don’t let the monkey decide for you.