A few days ago, I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience, which is an amazing traveling exposition of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings and life history that brings the artist’s paintings to life with sound and video. I watched crabs crawl out of picture frames and across walls, rivers splash off the canvasses, and spirals of stars roll across the night sky, just to name a few special effects. The show is a testament to technological wizardry as well as to art, and I am still awed by the creativity involved to put it together.
Appreciating the beauty and creativity of the show as well as reading about Van Gogh’s short life and his obsession for making art has me thinking about creative passions and how they affect those of us who have them—writers, artists, and musicians, for the most part. Van Gogh made more than 2000 sketches and paintings before he shot himself at age 37, but he was only able to sell only one painting in his lifetime and lived in poverty, supported by his brother. Van Gogh felt compelled to paint, but his work was unappreciated by those around him.
I won’t pretend that I am capable of that level of passion for writing, but I do understand both the pull and the pain of possessing a creative mind. Like so many writers, I’ve often been asked how much money my books earn or how many copies have sold, and like the majority of authors, I don’t make a living solely from my books. When I am not with writers, I’ve learned not to complain about the difficulty of marketing books or the frustration of smoothly knitting together a complex plot. Some of my family members have compared writing to banging one’s head against a brick wall, and some have suggested that my life would be easier if I would just quit writing.
But just like Vincent van Gogh couldn’t stop painting, I don’t think I can stop writing. I don’t know who I am if not a writer. To pay the bills, I’ve had a lot of jobs, but being a former technical writer or a private investigator doesn’t feel like enough of an identity for me. When I hear an especially clever comment from a friend, watch a hummingbird pluck fluff from a cattail for its nest, or feel the icy surprise of sleet on my face while hiking in the mountains, I want to capture that moment in writing. I occasionally make art, too—watercolors and acrylics—and I’m forever trying to capture a prism of sunlight on water or the texture of peeling tree bark in brush strokes, if not in words. My brain is often away on a solitary adventure instead of inventorying the groceries in my refrigerator.
The problem with being a creative person is that our passions are often dismissed as unimportant hobbies. Too many people are willing to pay more for a cup of Starbuck’s coffee than for a book.
So, Vincent, I get you. I’m sorry you didn’t live to see the appreciation that the world has today for your passion. Millions of us understand that a creative mind is both a blessing and a curse. Rest in peace, and thank you for being you.