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On the status of an artist

From a letter by Van Gogh dated 22 July, 1882:

"What am I in the eyes of most people - a nonentity or an eccentric or an obnoxious person - someone who has no position in society and never will have, in short the lowest of the low. Well, then - even if that were all absolutely true, I should one day like to show by my work what there is in the heart of such an eccentric, of such a nobody."

It's dangerous, and worst of all it runs the risk of hubris and pomposity for any of us to compare ourselves to Van Gogh at this moment in his life, not merely because of the difference in talent between any of us and the man who wrote this letter, but also because van Gogh indeed exceeded most of us in his obnoxiousness, particularly towards his family, and the families of the hopelessly unsuitable women with whom he fell in love. But there's an ironic tone in this self-description, too, which makes me still pause to say: "And yet .."

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