A Thought on Integrity from Vincent van Gogh

The established art dealer had criticized Vincent van Gogh’s work.

He had condemned Mr. van Gogh’s drawings. And he had lectured the artist on salability

Mr. van Gogh was a young man and a young painter. His hand, he said, could not yet create what was in his head. But while he was an artist still grasping his craft, he was a person who held his integrity tightly.

“[I] won’t let myself be forced into sending work into the world that doesn’t bear the stamp of my own character,” he wrote his younger brother, Theo.

Mr. van Gogh’s art was not yet where he wanted it to be. He needed to draw more seriously, he said, and pay closer attention to perspective and proportion. But his art was honest. Honest to who he was as a creator and to who he was as a person.

Which is not to say that Mr. van Gogh never craved popularity.

“Occasionally, in times of worry, I’ve longed to be stylish,” he wrote Theo. Money was tight and criticism was painful. Winning over the public was a seductive notion.

“But on second thought,” he continued to Theo, “I say no—just let me be myself—and express rough, yet true things with rough workmanship.”

Criticism would come and go. But Mr. van Gogh would stay, true to his own art and true to his own self.

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