Monday, December 7, 2009

What Really Killed Van Gogh?

A couple of years ago I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

I’ve visited many museums but this one was very special because I love Vincent Van Gogh and the magnificent, colorful works he created.

Van Gogh only painted for about ten years. During his lifetime he created about 2,000 works of art. He painted quickly and with great passion and most of his best-known works were produced in the final two years of his life.

Many of these masterpieces are on display at the museum and displayed in chronological order. You can actually see how his work became increasingly colorful as he moved towards his tragic suicide in 1890.

While browsing in the Museum’s bookstore I came across Martin Gayford’s book titled “The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence” and I bought it for my wife Francine who unfortunately wasn't on that trip with me. Both of us enjoyed it immensely. You can get a copy.

I later began to re-read the book which is something I often do that with books I’ve enjoyed... it’s like visiting an old friend.

While reading it, I started thinking about the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years about recognition from some very smart people.

One of the most interesting conversations I had was with Professor Jean-Pierre Brun in Paris last November. At the time, Jean-Pierre was the Chair of Occupational Health and Safety Management at Laval University in Quebec. He is currently working in Paris as the Executive Director of Stimulus, a French based company that deals with stress and workplace health issues.

Jean-Pierre’s research at the University of Laval has proven that the lack of recognition is the second-highest cause of workplace stress and burnout. During the course of our conversation Jean-Pierre went on to say that employers who withhold recognition from employees who deserve it are actually injuring them. (The verb he used in French was “blesser” which translates as "wound" in English).

In a previous post I stated my belief that recognition should not be limited to the workplace. It is something that should apply to our daily lives.

Now put this in the context of Vincent Van Gogh…

For most of his career, Vincent struggled in anonymity and his work was never recognized. Most accounts say he only sold one painting… “The Red Vineyard.”

Imagine that! Only one painting out of over two thousand that he created!

Vincent’s only real source of recognition came from his younger brother Theo. He supported him financially and through thick and thin. But Theo’s recognition only came in the form of letters: he lived far away in Paris and Vincent lived in Arles, in Provence. Vincent was truly alienated from most of society and alienation is the exact opposite of recognition.

Towards the end of his life Vincent suffered repeated bouts of mental illness. The most famous led him to cut off his own ear. Ultimately he took his own life.

I wonder what would have happened if Vincent Van Gogh’s work had been appreciated and recognized during his lifetime?

How many more masterpieces could have been in the Van Gogh Museum?