Pages from a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, 28 October 1883:
to cause despondency for six months, until one eventually sees after all that one shouldn’t have let oneself be disoriented.
There are two people whose intense struggle between ‘I’m a painter’ and ‘I’m not a painter’ I know. Rappard’s and my own — sometimes a frightening struggle, a struggle that’s precisely the distinction between us and some others who take it less seriously. For ourselves, we sometimes feel wretched, at the end of a spell of melancholy there’s a little light, a little progress; some others have less of a struggle, perhaps work more easily, yet their personal character also develops less. You would also have this struggle, and I say you must be aware that you run the risk of being put off by people who doubtless have the very best of intentions.
If something in you yourself says ‘you aren’t a painter’ — IT’S THEN THAT YOU SHOULD PAINT, old chap, and that voice will be silenced too, but precisely because of that. Anyone who goes to his friends and complains about his troubles when he feels like that loses something of his manliness, something of the best that’s in him. Your friends can only be those who fight against it themselves, rouse the active in you through their own example of action.
One must take it up with assurance, with a conviction that one is doing something reasonable, like the peasant guiding his plough or like our friend in the scratch, who is doing his own harrowing. If one has no horse, one is one’s own horse — a lot of people do that here. You must regard it not as a change — as a deeper penetration.
You’ve learned to see art over the years — now you go on, already knowing what you want to make. Don’t think that this is a little thing.
You can be decisive, you know what you want.
There’s a saying of Gustave Doré’s that I’ve always found exceedingly beautiful — I have the patience of an ox — right away I see something good in it, a certain resolute honesty; in short there’s a lot in that saying, it’s a real artist’s saying. When one thinks about people from whose mind something like this springs, it seems to me that the sort of arguments one all too often hears in the art trade about ‘gift’ is such a hideous croaking of ravens. ‘I have the patience’, how calm that is, how dignified that is. They wouldn’t even say that if it weren’t precisely because of all that croaking of ravens. I’m not an artist — how coarse that is — even to think it of oneself — should one not have patience, not learn patience from nature, learn patience from seeing the wheat slowly come up, the growing of things — should one think oneself such a hugely dead thing that one believed one wouldn’t grow? Should one deliberately discourage one’s development? I say this to show why I find it so silly to talk about gifts and no gifts.
But if one wants to grow, one must fall into the earth. So I say to you, plant yourself in the soil of Drenthe — you will sprout there. Don’t shrivel up on the pavement. You’ll say that there are city plants — well yes, but you are wheat and belong in the wheatfield.