The causes of popularity

Dear Artist, At dinner last night the textile artist Carole Sabiston posed a question to our party: “How do you account for the remarkable popularity and love for the work among average people of someone like Vincent van Gogh?” Her question was accompanied by her usual wink, as if there might be a reason not to love Vincent’s paintings. We all blurted our off-the-top-of-the-head answers. After my wine-enriched blurt, I took her question to bed. More considered pillow punching spun some reasons why the work of any of us might become popular and loved: A unique and recognizable style: In Vincent’s case, thickly applied pure pigment was laid brick-like with a compulsive sincerity. His style, at first the butt of jokes and swift elimination from juried shows, stood out for its amateur crudeness and naiveté. After all the polished works of the Salon, Vincent’s efforts couldn’t be missed. In his novelty, Vincent was one of the artists to herald “the cult of the new.” A range of subject matter within a style: Landscapes, florals, boats, dreams, visions, struggle, appreciation of nature and narrative angst. Something for everyone. An epic life story: Innocently, and by default, Vincent pioneered the benefits of poverty, failure, suffering and mental illness. Disorder, in the psychology of the new enlightenment, was now acceptable and could be packaged and sold. Vincent’s life had filmic potential. The presence of “early adopters”: A band of contrarian dealers and critics who promoted Vincent to a new breed of entrepreneurial collector — those who would go on to found great collections and public museums. Vincent’s work crossed the pond. An early death ensuring a finite opus: It’s good for a young artist to die. A small, interrupted supply of art insures rarity, dealer control and the potential for recognizable prints, posters, books, potholders, key-chains and mugs. Vincent was granted the sort of familiarity average people can get their heads around. Best regards, Robert PS: “I do not know myself how I paint it. I sit down with a white board before the spot that strikes me. I look at what is before my eyes, and say to myself, that white board must become something.” (Vincent van Gogh) Esoterica: A Mugg’s Jury. Imagine, if you will, a juried art show held in Muggsville, Saskatchewan, where a few of Vincent’s middling (not the worst and not the best) originals were included. And imagine that not one of the Muggsville jurors had ever heard of Vincent or knew what his work looked like. Difficult, I know, in the age of mass media, unless you happen to be a recently landed Martian. Do you think Vincent’s work would get into the Muggsville Salon? What do you think jurors might say? “Crude?” “Try again next year?” Do you think young Vincent might just pick up a few blue ribbons?   Embedded energy by Joy Hanser, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

mixed media painting
by Joy Hanser

I think Robert’s pillow forgot to tell him about one essential element of Vincent’s work which captivates almost universally — passion. It’s there to feel plainly, even more so when you stand in front of the real canvases, and it inspires awe and a kind of longing in the viewer. There is also a certain oddness, especially in the portraits, that leads to open-mouthed wonder. His creative path with strokes and colours is plain to see and understand, and his energy is amazingly forever embedded there.         Astute marketing manager by Sharon McKenna, Ottawa, ON, Canada  

“Beaver pond 3”
original painting
by Sharon McKenna

His popularity was in a large measure due to the astute management of his painting sales by his sister-in-law after his death. She had his whole oeuvre in her control; she avoided flooding the market with too many at a time and marketed his works very cleverly. It would be nice if we all had a marketing manager who was so committed to our work and smart at getting it noticed and collected and if we didn’t have to die before we were collected.     There are 4 comments for Astute marketing manager by Sharon McKenna
From: Anonymous — Jun 07, 2010

What a cynical comment! I wonder if you’ve seen his work in person… It seems impossible to me to stand in front of the two-sided piece at the Modern in NYC and not be profoundly moved. His sister-in-law’s stratagem worked to ensure that the prices would increase, but that has nothing to do with why so many people, trained or untrained, are stunned by his work.

From: Virginia Wieringa — Jun 08, 2010

Cynical? I don’t think so. Yes, his work is wonderful and aven profound, but his s-i-l could have had a bonfire after Vincent’s death, but instead she made him famous.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jun 08, 2010

Many artists have been heavily marketed in their lifetimes, and yet have faded from view, so the idea that Van Gogh remains popular because of his dedicated sister-in-law simply doesn’t wash. She kept his work from oblivion, for which we can all be grateful. I certainly am. I remember being taken by an aunt and uncle as a child to see three of his paintings in a special exhibition when I was quite young. Those paintings stopped me in my tracks, and are as vivid in my memory now as then. Reproductions bring back the memory, but I’d love to see his paintings again. He could evoke so much with a single well-placed curved stroke depicting a farmhand’s back: the musculature, the effort of his work, the fatigue. And the stroke itself bringing one into the rest of the painting. The man was brilliant.

From: Kathleen — Jun 09, 2010

Fine painting by Sharon!

  Powerful expression by Scott Kahn, NY, USA   Transcending all reasons Robert has mentioned is Van Gogh’s gift of expressing feeling! And he did this in a most powerful way. It is a gift and cannot be analyzed. It is the primary reason we seek any creative, artistic expression. What is so astounding about van Gogh’s gift to express feeling is the purity, honesty, and truthfulness of that feeling. Nothing stands in the way between his soul and the painting. It is direct and clear. This is his appeal because everyone, consciously or unconsciously, is seeking understanding of our human condition and the profound questions of life and death. This is the very substance of van Gogh’s work; it is why he painted. There is 1 comment for Powerful expression by Scott Kahn
From: Karen — Jun 08, 2010

I agree with Scott. The sincerity and love of what he did comes through loud and clear. I agree with the previous comment too, about standing in front of the work and it having a profound effect of awe and longing. To go to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is to be moved greatly, and even after years of seeing copies of the Sunflowers etc., all over………

  The jury system by Richard Mason, Howell, NJ, USA  

“NY Bridge”
acrylic painting
by Richard Mason

I love Vincent’s work. Maybe because I can identify with him. The jury system and I don’t get along either. In answer to your question I doubt if his work would be given a blue ribbon by someone judging a show in Muggsville who didn’t know who he was. I believe the perseverance of his sister-in-law brought his paintings into the light. He truly was one of the “new” painters.       There is 1 comment for The jury system by Richard Mason
From: Rick A. Pilling — Jun 18, 2010

I agree with Richard: his importance now is hugely influenced by being one of the “new” painters. Unfortunately “new” doesn’t stay new, which is, I think, why trends in art are bouncing around so much these days. But Van Gogh was one of a relatively limited number who were breaking away from the established norms right at the time when the masses were craving a big change. I’ve always wondered: is Van Gogh the only artist who really fits the cliche that I’ve heard a thousand times “the problem with being an artist is that you’ll only be successful when you’re dead”? It seems to me that most enjoyed a resonable level of success in life, even if their works become that much more valued over time… p.s. I’m not sure if I should take insult for those of us who actually live in Saskatchewan that Robert would use our province as the paradigmatic obscure/back-woods site of his hypothetical question. I’m sure he chose it for the almost impronouncable name, but for the record: Van Gogh is as well-known here as he is everywhere else. Hot-diggity-damn!

  Stamp of approval by Pepper Hume, Spring, TX, USA  

“snow fall”
mixed media
by Pepper Hume

To address your friend’s question seriously, I fear a major element is that “the public” has been told to like van Gogh. He’s been given the Good Housekeeping Stamp of Approval by the art world — museums, books, and enormous prices. But that’s only the door opener. It worked for Monet and Warhol, but not so much for Pollock or Mondrian. Once that door is open, it’s easy to become comfortable with the likes of van Gogh, Monet or Warhol. Although their interpretation is striking, their subject matter is recognizable and friendly. There may even be a touch of “I could do that” in the viewer’s response.   There is 1 comment for Stamp of approval by Pepper Hume
From: Janet Badger — Jun 08, 2010

Oh my goodness! Snow Personified!! Amazing!

  Rebels against the establishment by Michael Fenton, New Jersey, USA  

original painting
by Michael Fenton

Had I lived in Europe at the time of Van Gogh, I would have gravitated toward him because he was not boring! So much of the classical work of the Academy, at the time, was corporate and politically correct. Van Gogh and most of the Impressionists rebelled (consciously or not) against the stodgy establishment. I think Van Gogh helped set the tone we see today which is more accepting of all kinds of art — even the weird and distasteful. Van Gogh and the Impressionists helped me understand how the establishment, even in art, is not to be entirely trusted in its judgment about art. Van Gogh didn’t sell during his lifetime because the establishment ruled, so I guess he was ahead of his time. Van Gogh had vision and emotion and raw talent and he did what he had to do.   Why is this here? by Deb Lacativa, GA, USA  

“Earthrise Without Us”
by Deb Lacativa

I wondered the same thing myself when I recently visited the High Museum in Atlanta for the exhibit of Monet’s Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond on loan from MOMA. I spent a good deal of time in the room studying the work and watching the other viewers’ reactions. There were a lot of furrowed brows, mine included. I wondered if MOMA slipped us provincials a few rolls of old wall paper and were having a snicker over pulling a fast one on us. At 42 feet wide, it was impressive but my overall impression was “and?” His Houses of Parliament was much more compelling. Later, I was sitting on a bench in front another artist’s work, another large but more contemporary canvas. In a nutshell — a mess. It looked as if several warring clans of taggers had competed to a messy stand off for this several square yards of canvas. A security guard stood by his post nearby. After a few minutes I looked at his bemused expression with the unspoken question on my face “Why is this popular? Why is this here?” In a murmur, he wondered aloud “Who’s zoomin’ who?” and we both had a chuckle.   Unique for all time by Sharon Lynn Williams, BC, Canada  

“Opabin Imaginings”
acrylic painting
by Sharon Lynn Williams

I just came back from Paris where I had the wonderful opportunity to interact up close and personal with Vincent’s work. His lively brushwork and colour just jumped off the walls — it was the most startling thing I have ever experienced. Of all the art I saw in France, nothing even remotely touched it. Not only was he unique for his time, his is unique for all time! But it was rather sad to see this brilliant work flatly repeated on posters and mugs at every tourist trap in France. I wonder what he would have thought of that.   There are 3 comments for Unique for all time by Sharon Lynn Williams
From: ilona — Jun 07, 2010

Well said. I had a similar experience in Paris, viewing Van Gogh’s work brought me to tears.

From: Eileen MacKenzie — Jun 08, 2010

I agree, Sharon. I saw his paintings in Amsterdam and it was a powerful experience; a direct spiritual connection between the viewer and artist. He is the peoples’ artist. Otherwise, why would so many people line up for an hour or two just to get into the museum. Once in, it’s jostling room only. He speaks loud and clear even in the twenty-first century.

From: Laura Reilly — Jun 08, 2010

Sharon, your painting is amazing. I love it!

  Using symbols by Nancy Taylor, Porter Ridge, CA, USA   Vincent Van Gogh had a way of using symbols to represent elements in nature. There is real beauty in his work. I refer to his drawings and paintings where strokes and dots do convince the viewer it is nature we are seeing. Fields of grass and some wild iris with a house in the far distance charmed me when I first studied his work, a train in the distance moving slowly along between fields of crops, a solitary tree covered with ivy, or a garden filled with tall blooming bushes. So many of his works expressed things we recognize and he made those images convincing with just short strokes of a pen, or a paintbrush, accompanied with brief curved lines, dots, or other symbolic strokes. There is much to admire in his work, and much that many could not achieve as he did. The portrait of Dr. Gachet, his psychiatrist, expresses the gloom and sorrow that man held in his inner thoughts as he sat posing for his patient. Vincent’s early drawings in ink are worth studying. Not as one would study the drawings of Guido Reni, Titian, or other masters of realism, but as a way of learning how that one man drew as he tried to record the culture and dwellings of the poor people and cities around him.   A bucket of oats by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Golden Corn”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Vincent would be appalled by the marketing methods used to make him a household word. Part of his phenomenon is that he is, in fact, dead and gone and can make no complaints or modifications to the reams of hype and hyperbole churned out about him. To get a true reading all you have to do is read his letters to saintly brother Theo. There you will see an intelligent but difficult man, a tireless lover of art and painting, who lived in fear of his uncontrolled mental illness. When will he be struck down with another seizure? What will he do then? His artistic life was short and terrifying. Mentally ill people live even today at the margins of society. There is no hope of being popular or fitting in. The daily struggle within the brain usually takes all of a person’s energy. People who have studied Vincent’s life sympathize with his plight and find it remarkable that such a man had the creative force to make thousands of enduring works of art in a career in under a decade. You reproduce millions upon millions of images of Vincent’s paintings and saturate the world with them. It makes me remember a quote attributed to Degas when one of his pastels was sold for over a million dollars. By then old and blind and unable to paint, Degas was still full of the same acidic wit. When asked how such an event made him feel he said he felt like the thoroughbred race horse that just won the big derby and still got the same bucket of oats! Nothing could be more far removed from the legend of Vincent Van Gogh than the man himself. There is 1 comment for A bucket of oats by Paul deMarrais
From: Debra Davis — Jun 08, 2010

As a mentally ill person myself, I must disagree with you Paul, when you write that there is “no hope of being popular or fitting in”. While this is true for some mentally ill people, it can be just the opposite for others. Yes, I have had moments of insanity, but after 30 plus years of living with bipolar disorder, I make a living, “fit in” and dare say that I would be considered a popular woman. I often wonder if I (and countless others) would even be an artist if I did not have this “gift”…

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The Coming of Fall

oil painting by Julie Houck


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Jim Cowan of New Westminster, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Perhaps those unwashed masses recognize the honesty of the work. No catering to whim or fashion but rejoicing in the orgy of light and colour?” And also Linda Hicks of Belmont, MA, USA, who wrote, “Vincent’s paintings were fresh and original, in all respects, not formulaic, and that was enough, I believe.”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The causes of popularity

From: CaroleWayne — Jun 04, 2010

About Vincent van Gogh: We are told over and over again how wonderful something is, or how horrible, until we begin to believe it. This can be about an artist, an artistic movement, a food, an ethnic group, a religion. Then sometimes, some of us see that things just might not be what we’ve been told to believe. We learn to see with, and trust, our own eyes and hearts. Vincent might not make it in Muggsville, but he did see the world with his very own eyes and heart.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jun 04, 2010

Vincent Van Gogh painted from the heart and his feeling is there for all to see, I believe, even those who know nothing about art. That is one reason why he is so popular. Other artists have had the marketing, the story and so forth, but none have had the lasting power. It is the emotion in the painting without going sugary. Vincent still lives in his paintings.

From: Sue — Jun 04, 2010

A voracious reader and scholar, Van Gogh was the consummate student and after years of very intense work and study, an accomplished professional artist. The reason his work is so popular (not Vincent himself, we shouldn’t confuse the two) is because it is so extraordinarily earnest and passionate, and just plain gorgeous. His work was not arrived at by accident or luck, or because of some inner fire inaccessible by mere mortals, it was arrived at because he loved art and painting, learned everything he possibly could about it, and worked as hard as he possibly could to make it. His work is a beacon for any serious painter because it is an example of the genius, power and magic (Goethe) of boldness and tenacity.

From: Chris Everest — Jun 04, 2010

I came to Vincent’s painting through his letters. All the questions we ask of an artist he asked of himself. All the answers he struggled to formulate, the working-out of who and why and what he wanted are there. I would have liked to have talked to him.

From: Elmer J. Muggs and Elmer W. Muggs — Jun 04, 2010

This is an insult to Vincent van Gough, Saskatchewan, Muggsville and all members of the Muggs family.

From: Susan Kellogg — Jun 04, 2010

It is hard to respond to the posed question of “popularity” because I tend to go deaf when I hear/read terms like “Joe six pack”, “average people” and “Muggsville”; terms often used by politicians who are uncomfortable in their leadership role and naked in their need to appear above others; who have trouble disguising the grandiosity that the use of those terms reveals. To me Vincent was never after illusion nor after illustrating popular delusions of grandeur or disaster. He was modest in his scope. WYSIWYG. His illness/genius did not allow him to go beyond the intersection of his paints and his reality. He didn’t stick around for the paint to dry.

From: Liz Coomes — Jun 04, 2010
From: Helen Horn Musser — Jun 04, 2010

Robert, you have sparked my heart with observations of Van Gogh; you are right on about it all. I’ve had the privilege to see his work in museums and know how he connects with the viewer on a personal note. His work is so powerful with brush strokes and sublime coloring and at the same time so touching with his choice of subjects it does tug at one’s heart strings. His personal life was somewhat of a tragedy adding to the intrique of his paintings and commanding attention. When all is said and done when you view his work it stirs our passion for life and art. What would be his fate today in the art world? Very good question! I believe we have grown in our value of art and would give him many ribbons.

From: Katharine E. Robinson — Jun 04, 2010

Van Gogh, not unlike Sabiston today, had an amazing ability with Colour; Richness, and Depth to capture one in the visual realm. Subject matter; enduring, timeless, most importantly soulful.

From: Dorenda — Jun 04, 2010

I think Van Gogh did what we all wish we could do as an artist…he painted what he liked in a style unique to his abilities and studies, he followed his passion despite criticism and poverty, and he put his art before anything else, even his own well-being. It’s not just the pieces he created that are admirable, it’s his commitment to the craft.

From: Revelle Hamilton — Jun 04, 2010

I think you missed the point of Ms Sabiton’s question. She asked why it is popular with the average person. Average people rarely agree with the choices of juror’s. My opinion is that the combination of bright clean colors, and strokes put down with great energy make viewers feel good. I think it is plain that Van Gogh was totally absorbed in his work and enjoying the process. That translates directly to the viewer, even if that viewer has no formal art training.

From: Martin — Jun 04, 2010

One of the better blogs you have done Robert. That’s why we say “fall in love with process”

From: Mike P. — Jun 04, 2010

I really, really enjoy reading this every time I receive it. Thanks, Robert for a point of view that gets us to think and feel our art.

From: Patricia — Jun 04, 2010

I never was a fan of Vincent’s work – UNTIL I had a chance to see it in person. Somehow the photo reproductions don’t do justice to his intensity of color and his compelling brush strokes. I think he might just do very well in salon competition in Muggsville, Saskatchewan. Although he’d have to find the place first. I’ve been to Plunkett, Elbow and Love, but will have to check the map to zone in for a summer visit to Muggsville.

From: Decker Walker — Jun 04, 2010

The reasons you give for the popularity of Vincent’s paintings are surely relevant but not specific to Vincent. Dozens of other painters at the time and thousands since painted in original styles, had entrepreneurial dealers, and so on. Your casual asides hint at reasons more specific to Vincent’s work, such as these. + His paintings show straightforwardness, openness. With Vincent, what you see is what you get. He paints images of familiar, recognizable objects, nothing mysterious or hard to decipher. While it is true that his colors are more intense than those we see in daily life and sometimes shocking to viewers even today, still his color relationships are not intentionally distorted in the manner of expressionist painters like Franz Marc. Vincent does not cover his tracks. You can see every touch he made to the canvas. He makes no attempt to hide what he feels about his subjects, either. With Vincent, everything’s right there in front of you, so as a viewer you feel that he has put himself forward fearlessly and therefore that he wants you to know him and love him. + We feel that Vincent is sincere. Nothing about his work is ironic, snide, dishonest, slick, or calculated to impress. His drawing, for instance, is unpolished, often crude by academic standards. Others might have been ashamed of it and worked for years to draw in a more accepted, sophisticated way, but not Vincent. And he doesn’t try to hide his drawing or avoid drawing problems by leaving out what’s too hard to draw, nor does he show off his untutored manner like many contemporary artists do, Cy Twombly, for instance. He wears his heart on his sleeve. + Vincent invites us to indulge in sensuous pleasure. He gives us gorgeous pure colors and arranges them harmoniously, textures so strong that the impulse to touch is almost irresistible, heaving corn fields, writhing cypresses, radiating stars. “Look on these and feel” he tells us. These qualities — openness, sincerity, and uninhibited indulgence in pleasure — are much admired today, much more so than in Vincent’s own time. Perhaps they account for his current popularity. If our culture changes so that sophistication, canniness, and self-restraint become dominant values, perhaps Vincent’s popularity would fade.

From: Edna V.Hildebrandt — Jun 04, 2010

In these day and age where there are painters of all ages and places it is elusive .Popularity is promoted by networking and by advertisement by some.True popularity I think comes when your work is unique in a style identifiable as your own.

From: Mike Young — Jun 04, 2010

We know 3M for Post It notes. Vincent was there first: Marketing – Marquee Player – touch of Magic

From: Rita Dianni-Kaleel — Jun 04, 2010

I fully agree— to me, his art imparts the struggle he had as a human being by his application of paint, strong colors and aggressive brushwork, which we all experience at some point in our lives.

From: Elsha Leventis — Jun 04, 2010

BUT – during his lifetime, Vincent was not popular at all and could not sell his work. Not only did he die young, he also cut off his own ear. Chalk it up to an insanely well-marketed brand?

From: Liz — Jun 04, 2010

Thanks for your wonderful letter about dear Vincent. Here is another of his quotes: As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed. If you have never read his letters to his brother, do so as you would enjoy them and I think be amazed at his genius(not only found in his paintings.) When he painted he looked for the soul of the subject to fill that ” white board.” In his letters, you will find the life-like person of Vincent. Truly, one of the best books I’ve read. Not a portrayal of a suffering soul but of a striving one.

From: joe yeno — Jun 04, 2010

VAN GOGH is universal…his popularity has nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with raw talent. artists I know often say if only this or that I would be able to make a living with my work: actually if only they were different enough to do something original that people wanted to see they would be more inclined towards success. When I was very small I saw a van gogh painting in a book and loved it, at 3 I don’t think I was under anyone’s influence except mine [my parents had no art interest]. I think today there are too many artists and not enough art.

From: Bernie Victor — Jun 04, 2010

I’m sure that Van Gogh’s work would be thrown out as crude and un-painterly.

From: Dyane Brown — Jun 04, 2010

Robert, with all due respect, Van Gogh is loved for his ability to touch the human heart. His work moves people to tears. It is truth, passion, …..soul…..

From: Terry Fortkamp — Jun 04, 2010

I must tell you about the time I taught art with children in a farm/rural community (where I grew up…Ohio)…I showed a slide show of famous artists to 2nd graders and when the van Gogh’s appeared on the wall they started clapping. Each van Gogh slide…clapping…roaring clapping. I was so moved. When I stand before a van Gogh painting it feels like HE is there. His truth/life force came through him raw and powerfully and that truth is still there in those colors and strokes. Everyone wants to clap in front of raw truth!

From: Keith Cameron — Jun 04, 2010

Sadly, there are those who would take great delight in the financial appreciation of a body of work knowing full well the Creator died penniless. It is the kind of heartless story that will cynically inspire the minions in trade to go forth and financially conquer in similar fashion. That is why as Artists I humbly feel we should not concern ourselves with populace when it comes to the work. More so appreciation for our treatment of our subject matter, and the guts we may have revealed. I paint athletes who are very much a part of the populace, but my goal is to capture their process. The lines they have crossed, the lines they have stayed within. I want to create an expression of challenges they faced as Athletes translated through the challenges I faced as an Athlete, Coach and Artist. I want to experience our relative sensibilities when I meet them, and we share the work. I also want them to see something in the work that says I was thoughtful in the treatment beyond populace. I aspire to participate in the artistic process knowing the cultural separations that take place between Art and Sports giving me a purpose to create connective tissue that goes beyond the work, and who bought it. Make no mistake I want someone to buy it, so that I may do more of it, but I don’t want my intention as an Artist to be overwhelmed by populace, and the resulting commerce. I don’t think Vincent would want the celebrity his amazing work has attained. I humbly think the process he went through to create it gave him enough. I also think it was having to live that process without understanding that made him the short lived star that became the penniless painter whose work sells in the multimillions. I think that is painfully obvious to us all.

From: Elihu Edelson — Jun 04, 2010

By focusing on the element of popularity, this discussion dodges the question of how great an artist Vincent was or wasn’t. Some of your remarks are even condescending: “amateur crudeness and naiveté.” Vincent was far from naïve; like his brother Theo he had been in the art dealership business and was related to a popular and accomplished artist of his time. An examination of Vincent’s drawings shows his keen powers of observation, which are far from primitive. I would say that Vincent’s art became popular in the long run because its vitality that comes across unmistakably, along with a powerful sense of color and texture. The Impressionists brought a new consciousness of color theory into the art of painting, and Vincent was well aware of this. All of which brings us to the matter of his greatness. Romanticism had brought the element of feeling into art, but such work was about feeling. Vincent’s art was the direct expression of feeling, and so he is credited with being the father of a whole movement which came to be called Expressionism. However, Vincent’s merit does not rest on his influence. As indicated, an encounter with his work provides a powerful visual experience.

From: Gisa Mayer — Jun 04, 2010

Can’t it be that Vincent van Gogh’s painting are close to being objectively almost perfect? Maybe there is an innate appreciation for the ‘ right’ composition, overall treatment of the canvas, love for a concise colourism? I find it quite arrogant to talk about ‘average people’, as if we artists are above or have more right to judge other artist’s work. A nearly perfect painting is just as perfect to the untrained eye as it is to the experienced.

From: Carolyn — Jun 04, 2010

Vincent has long been my favourite artist – not because he died young. But because he painted with his heart and soul. And he painted things as he saw them and experienced them. Maybe he was seeing images in his madness – but maybe seeing a bit of truth too. I think he painted quickly – even furiously – wanting to capture the essence of what he saw before it disappeared. Visions in the mind are not permanent – just fleeting moments. I hope that the jurors would see that passion in his paintings today as well.

From: Skip van Lenten — Jun 04, 2010

I know very little about the life of Van Gogh, but I did have an opportunity to see an exhibit of his drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there was not a wink to be seen in the eyes of anyone else who was there. The man was fantastic, mixing pencils, black ink, and chalk, and almost every single item on display showed a fluidity in his style that is not always evident in his paintings. He deserves to be popular.

From: Diane Goldenstein — Jun 04, 2010

I have lived most of my life in the western US and saw Van Gogh only in the flat representations. I would fit into your dinner guest’s category of mass appreciators. In my late forties, I got a chance to go to New York. I scheduled an extra day in the city to see the Met and met my first Van Gogh face to face. The meeting was electric and visceral. I bet your fictional jury will have the same response and multiple blue ribbons. I started painting after 50 and my work is definitely inspired by Van Gogh both in the colors and the depth of the texture.

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 04, 2010

Rather than ascribe Vincent’s popularity to marketing, is there anything wrong with respectfully giving a remarkable artist his due? I hope Vincent’s work would find itself in a juried show, but these days acceptance is confined to what is marketable rather than its own merit. Art history classes tell students who is a great artist. Most believe it because they lack the knowledge to assess the work themselves. Why do I like Van Gogh? Because I see the despair he lived with in his work. He was brutally honest in painting that angst. It took courage to pursue his own imitable style, distinguishable from all others. Thus, a Van Gogh is more recognizable to the general public. Regardless of circumstance, anyone who dies young takes on an immortal reputation: Poe, Keats, Buddy Holly, JFK, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, and Vincent. People not necessarily interested in art know well the struggles Vincent suffered. I believe they embrace his art because struggle is universal to the human experience. Branding doesn’t have to be a negative (a particular popular artist with his own galleries comes to mind). If art can be brought into mainstream acceptance we’re all winners. Awareness is crucial to developing the next generation of art patrons.

From: Gavin Logan — Jun 04, 2010

Van Gogh, while passionate and dedicated, was still an amateur, which has given hope to many an artist.

From: Rene Wojcik — Jun 04, 2010
From: Tatjana M-P — Jun 04, 2010

I think that Vincent’s paintings are popular simply because they are terrific. His compositions, choice of colors and brushstrokes are exquisite. I have seen thousands of images, but I vividly remember Vincent’s. Before I studied his work I thought that anyone could do it – but that’s also part of his genius – he made it all look easy. I think that this appearance of easiness is what deceives many people.

From: Peter W. Brown — Jun 04, 2010

Dear Robert – – You make some very salient points regarding the reasons for Van Gogh’s near universal veneration. I can add to your list. Van Gogh’s family was a family of art dealers. They saved all of his work. That could not have hurt his road to acceptance and fame. There was also the profoundly beautiful documentation of his life in his letters to his brother, Theo. You also speak of his “compulsive sincerity.” And that point should be elaborated. For almost every major Van Gogh painting, there exists an ink drawing in a similar scale. These drawings illustrate quite clearly that the apparent compulsiveness in Van Gogh’s painting was completely premeditated. He had used a broad pen nib to pre- figure most every stoke of his brush. When I saw these ink drawings they seemed like x-rays of the finished paintings. Van Gogh certainly had mental problems, but his art had little to do with that. He planned each painting in black and white. He found the structure, the bones of each painting, before he painted it. People make a great deal about Van Gogh’s mental problems, and this just fuels the misconception that artists are crazy. When one studies Van Gogh’s art, it is supremely sane. He figured out each painting in advance. He may have been crazy, but his art was his sanity.

From: Joan Polishook — Jun 04, 2010

All I can say is that whenever we get to The Metropolitan Museum in NYC the first thing my husband and I do is “visit” Vincent. We go straight to the small self portrait under glass to say “hello”, then on to the collection. MOMA also has some wonderful van Goghs that we never tire of looking at with great appreciation and respect for his genius….Vincent’s drawings and paintings “speak”…and he remains a favorite. Now here’s a funny story….for some reason, in all my studies, I never paid attention to or maybe just forgot about Van Gogh’s painting “Shoes”….I had no idea when I looked out of my front door one day to see a pair of work shoes on the trailer of the contractor who was doing some work at my home. My God, I thought, those shoes are awesome and would make a great painting. I ran for my sketchbook and the camera and within a few days had completed “The Workman’s Shoes” in acrylic…it ultimately won a prize at a NJ art show, and currently belongs to a NJ family. On a later visit to the Metropolitan, my mouth fell open and I stopped abruptly in my tracks for there just opposite Vincent’s portrait was now hanging the original “Shoes”. I swear I had nothing else in mind when I decided to paint my workman’s shoes! Pike County, PA

From: gail caduff-nash — Jun 04, 2010

i have a friend, Kimberly Young (Mawbear), who suddenly created a large number of “outsider” paintings last year, most of which i consider extraordinarily good works. i even traded my best piece for one of hers. a lot of people like her work of last year. my own critique of it is that she has an inate ability to compose a good picture and was desparate enough to try some techniques that worked. it jelled. my own work has had its fans but for the most part i expect indifference from most people. someone will love one piece and not care at all for the rest. popular artists, to me, have not included Van Gogh, but have been people who painted soup cans and calendar pictures. they are media creations who become wined & dined and are courted by the public. they may have some real talent but mostly they have really good agents. Van Gogh is not of this ilk of artist. his art was personal and often not even appealing. HE and his art are only now popular BECAUSE he’s been sold to us, post mortem. his brother was his biggest fan and his life was rough to the extreme. pick your poison, they say, and choose what kind of popularity you might want – or not want. i would like to make a few quid on my stuff but not have the kind of spotlight that would MAKE me crazy.

From: S.K.Sahni — Jun 05, 2010

I feel there are other reasons that made Vincent’s works draw our attention towards them. His works are Timeless i.e. their appeal will not change with the time, society may change, our aesthetic sensibilities or responses to visual stimuli may take new courses but Timeless quality embodied in the works will not diminish their appeal.

From: Terry Gilecki — Jun 05, 2010

Is van Gogh a phenomenal artist, or just a compelling sad story of an artist that like his art, touches so many? Like Pollack, For one example, I think he was he just the first to do something radically different and continued to do so, no matter how many famous artists he hung out ridiculed him or how much no one embraced it? Unfortunately in his case, it was too late when the “Right” person(s) decided to make something of his work and crown him the master of his own domain. Just ask anyone, if van Gogh is a great artist… and most I’m sure would say “Of course” (even though they may not really think so or simply don’t have a clue). This is the fallacy called argumentum ad numeram: the idea that something is true because the masses believe it. Just because most people believe something doesn’t make it true. Like with Global warming, somehow the average ordinary person’s opinion means something when the only opinions that really count are the few scientists capable of having a clue. Had he lived to paint into his senior years… I think he would have eventually found a following (like many “more mature” artists do) but I doubt he would have soared to the heights reserved for Gods and superstars. He was packaged and marketed, just like scores of artists are today. There are many van Goghs out there right now and even if they suffered an early demise, it probably wouldn’t make a difference to their popularity because “He” has already been done.

From: Linda — Jun 05, 2010

The answer to Van Gogh’s popularity is found in the last word of the first sentence of your second paragraph…SINCERITY. Any painting of any age or time, that is painted with sincerity and honesty will touch our hearts.

From: Boa — Jun 07, 2010

There are many ignorant artists who think that they are as good as Vincent. That is a delusion that can only be dispelled by a visit to a museum which carries Vincent’s originals. There is nobody today, or in the past who comes close to his quality of art.

From: Hana Case — Jun 08, 2010

I did not appriciate Van Gogh’s work as I attended art school in the 60’s until I had a chance to see his works in person. His works were bright, live and exciting in life. It was similar to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. I was never that impressed with the photos of the Grand Canyon because I was not able to see the depth. Van Gogh’s paintings were very thick and the dimensional effect are what added life to his pieces. The lighting in the gallery also had a lot to do with the beauty of the display.

From: rose — Jun 08, 2010

Van Gogh is someone I never really liked until recently. I think it is because his “Starie Night” picture didn’t look look like a starie night or his sun flowers really didn’t look like sun flowers. None of his pictures look like what they were. They were the wrong colors the wrong size, etc. They is exactly what I LIKE ABOUT HIS PICTURES NOW. Everyone sees differently. I, nor he, can really paint a flower. It will not look exactly like a flower, to be a flower. To try is to be disappointed and frustrated and than see parts to pick apart. If that exact copy image is what is sought, take a picture, blow it up to desired size, crop it and be done. If you realize from the start you are doing an art flower, or sky, it can be anything. That is why Van Gogh is popular. That is why I like his work now. The colors, shapes, movement, etc. He painted what only he saw.

From: Deb Sims — Jun 08, 2010

It is the passion, definitely, the passion, that literally jumps off the canvas and into your soul when you stand in front of a Van Gogh. I stood in front of his works in Paris with tears streaming down my face. It was a spiritual thing, a communion with his very soul. The colors, the light, the brush strokes–he couldn’t have communicated the passion any better if he had been standing there speaking to me.

From: Robin Shillcock — Jun 08, 2010

Vincent’s popularity had to do with two major points: Marketing and Accessibility. His brother’s wife did a really good job promoting Vincent’s work after both Vincent and her husband Theo died. She proved a very astute marketeer. That and the fact that van Gogh’s letters were edited and published made the persona, a tormented man with a great passion for preaching and painting, accessible to a wider public. It was a time when passion and crude paint application became of interest, a backlash after the Golden Age of Realism wherein artists had attained a high degree of artistic ability as well as technical facility. Van Gogh was a grafter, a man who struggled with his limited abilities as a painter as well as with the confining coda of bourgeois society. His background, growing up in Nuenen, just round the corner from where my mother lives, in the heart of what was then a backward and poverty-stricken farming area of Netherlands, and his experiences as a lay preacher in the Borinage mining region in Belgium, gave him a critical view of the “juste milieu” —the art buying patrons. And yet he too felt the need for success just like any other artist. Luckily for him the facade of art was breaking up into smaller fragments that were moving away from each other, and this created niches for artists of the like of naive painter Le Douanier and van Gogh. Thanks to the published letters the public could identify with van Gogh, a man of the people and not a distant, refined Beau Monde icon on a pedestal. We mustn’t forget however, that van Gogh’s fame wasn’t instant, and had much to do with art historians and critics jumping on the bandwagon of the avant-garde much later in the 20th century. Revolution and provocation became key-words for the avant-garde, a movement in need of outsider heroes. Van Gogh, though long dead, became in retrospect a figure-head of the movement.

From: Carol Lyons — Jun 08, 2010

We have been hearing that talent, craft, body of cohesive work, scholarship and persistence will do it. However, nowadays really popular it is what is in style– trendy, cutting- edge sensationalism, post modernist non-values and generous patrons who will underwrite and publicize such a show, commercial or otherwise. Iris, also called giclee prints, are popular. They look like the real thing, and most people don’t care or know what they are buying. They can be priced much less than original art and some feel they can’t survive by charging the price of an original. It is a personal decision— I do not do giclee prints; Artists I know do not consider giclee prints as “art”. Also, if you are the only artist for miles around, your work may be popular. In a geographical area where beautiful professional art is a dime a dozen, then it will have a difficult time.

From: Harley Colt — Jun 08, 2010

Van Gogh’s work is as honest and fresh today as it was back then. His “crude” quality did more to inspire me to paint than anything else. I have often reassured myself with Van Gogh when reading parts of your letters that mention sub par art. I am self taught because I was busy with a full time radio career in Houston, Tx for 30 years. An artist is one who cannot “not” create. Now I am a working, selling artist in Taos, New Mexico. Van Gogh painted because he found joy in it and so do I.

From: Karen Phinney — Jun 08, 2010
From: Sterling Peterson — Jun 08, 2010

Why Vincent is so admired in popular culture is in part because of the story told; struggling, poor, in pain, rejected; it all helps tell a fascinating story, but that isn’t enough to explain the attraction by the “average” person. Stand in front of his paintings and feel the pulsating vibrations that come off the canvass, be dazzled by the swirling skies and feel the languorous summer heat as two “average” peasants take a mid-day break from their back-breaking work. It is the intensity of life and the spirit struggling to convey it that is recognized and appreciated. It is one human being – the viewer – looking at what another person – the painter – is feeling and getting back the richness of spirit that is in all of us, but with Vincent expressed so explosively even to the point of self annihilation. But it is real. And that is what the ‘average” person relates to.

From: B J Adams — Jun 08, 2010

In answer to your question… It all depends on the jurors. One may be looking for something entirely new to him/her and be fascinated when finding what they may think of as innovative work. Another may be subjective favoring only what he feels is true art, not what he is seeing, and another may be either of the above, even objective and simply be looking for a proper composition blended with the right balance of color. I’ve given up on second guessing jurors no matter where the show or where the jurors live but I’d give this Vincent Van Gogh a 50/50 chance of being included in the Muggsville Salon.

From: Russ Hogger — Jun 08, 2010
From: Jackie Irvine — Jun 09, 2010

Just wondering Robert – after reading the comments on the continuing popularity of Van Gogh’s work and reading the responses. Some being that it was his passion and creative genius, others saying that it was his sister-in-law’s marketing abilities and yet another comment about how he belonged to the movement of painters that flouted the conventions of the salon and that he rebelled like many of his peers against the status quo of the day. This caused me to pause and wonder as an artist – what is the status quo of our day. What is it that we are being told. Indeed that is a question that each of us could ruminate on. I feel that we are told that we need to market and the true measure of sucess is money. The buzz words of the day are: Production and getting known and that art really is a business. i feel that much of what it really means to be an artist is lost in our modern age. There are some things we have no control over like as in vincent’s case weather we will become great or not. What I see about vincent Van Gogh and many other truly great artists is that they painted (and lots) and the rest really took care of itself. The journey was a process, a self-discovery, a life-time. Anyway, I know I have rambled but my question is what is our salon today, what are the rules that we are told to follow? Thanks Jackie

From: Nancy C Marshall — Jun 10, 2010
From: Zipper Phelps — Jun 11, 2010

You have to ask yourself if you’d have purchased one of his paintings off the easel, when he was producing them. No one else did. Styles change, often when the previous style has stultified and become restrictive and formulaic. There is always a little rebellion in the wings waiting to shock the pool and freshen it up. The new stuff might be intentionally different, or just the product of someone with different technical acumen, different vision, or perhaps it’s all the person can do. In any case, only time (obviously) reveals its continuing impact, and time can relegate it to the dustbins now, or later. Styles change because the market– the audience– needs change. Vincent happened to be there at the right time. But for Theo’s wife, Vincent might have missed the window. You have to wonder if he will still be popular during the next hundred years or be relegated to footnotes of history as so many other popular artists have been. I think that his being, arguably, (part of) a stylistic shift catalyst will give him a better than even chance of surviving in the main text, but only time will tell if he will still be hung in mass market reproductions.