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.

21 thoughts on “Vincent & the Monkey

  1. Way to go Danny, you write from the heart and experience. By now you may have a better idea about how your work is impacting the world and the best of it is that there is more to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interestingly, a newer book offers a new theory that Vincent was accidently by two boys playing with a gun. He, according to this theory, refused to disclose the accidental shooting to save the boys from the wrath of the authorities and their families. I would certainly explain “the sadness will last forever” comment. Suicide does seem to be an odd event for Vsn Gogh at this particular time, considering how ebullient he was in his last letter to Theo, talking about a new direction in his art.
    Regardless, he heard the monkey and knew his voice. The big question, for me, is that faced with the support only of his brother and his inner voice, how was he able to continue? I guess the monkey wasn’t loud enough. I choose to think of his life and his art as a victory, rather than as a defeat by the monkey.


    1. Thanks for adding this point, Morgan. I have read a lot about this book but it seems farfetched to me — and most scholars. It is also overwhelmingly clear that vVG was wrestling with lots of psychological distress over the last year of his life. He was institutionalized, suffered from despair, hallucinations and was unable to write to his brother for almost six months. But my point here was not to debate what ended his life but to speculate about what might have happened if he survived.
      However VVG’s creativity was cut short, the loss is ours. As is the loss of creative out put brought on in so many by the monkey voice.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re absolutely right, Danny. The Momkey’s Despair affects all creative people. It’s that still, small voice that says, “yeah, but,” when we say “what if?” I don’t like yabbuts, even smothered in cheese on toast or covered in chocolate. All we can do is to keep stepping, and ask for help when we need it. But, we are so fortunate to have had VG for the 10 years we did!


  3. Art should be freedom even it is hard work and challenging. I do photography because I am compelled to take pictures and teach others to feel the joy of making things and develop a way of working hard while being free. I have started sketching at the kitchen table just for fun. I always find your blogs very liberating.


  4. Gosh, Danny, is that really a photo of Van Gogh? I’ve never seen it before! Wow.

    But I’m really writing to say how much I love this post and I’ll be directing my blog to this URL for sure. Thank you.


  5. You never disappoint! You know what my monkey said when I started to get excited reading this and considering the possibilities? It said, “Let me tell you – you are no Van Gogh.” What a hairy little jerk.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. When I was in Auvers where Van Gogh died, we were told that he most likely was shot in one of the fields by some boys – that he did not kill himself but did struggle to walk back to his room where he died the next day. I know he also had monkeys in his head most of his life. Bless him!


  7. A great post Danny – my monkey is always hanging around, so I do a lot of positive talk and just keep on, keeping on. Just saw Van Gogh self portrait a couple weeks ago at a special exhibit in TX – the world lost an incredible artist way too early.


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