” Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way. So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside, have salt in ourselves, wait patiently, but with how much impatience, await the hour, I say, when whoever wants to, will come and sit down there, will stay there, for all I know? “
Vincent Van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, June 24, 1880
I read this quote by Van Gogh last week on Austin Kleon’s blog last week which inspired the question of the value of audience.
Before I started to blog this year, I wrote in comfortable anonymity in a small leather bound journal for an audience of one- me. Then I started my blog as a “must do” to help promote my visual art online. This intention swiftly changed after I published my first blog post “You Just Start.” To my amazement, I heard a little chime shortly after I hit the post button letting me know that one blogger had “liked” my post. I was floored. Really I had expected nothing, but the fact that my writing connected with someone emboldened me to share more of my personal writing.
Several posts later I received my first follower which amazed me even more. Then I began to join in the community by liking, commenting, & following others blogs. As I have been building my audience, I have been an audience to others, adding such a rich dimension to my creative life. Having an audience has been an affirmation that my creative expression has value to not only myself but to others.
Still, no matter what, I need to create with satisfying the audience of my own soul as my first priority. When I create with the intention just to please others, my work seems hollow. That’s when I feel the most despair if no one “comes to my table.” I will continue to write with or without an audience. Luckily I don’t need to make money from my writing and I will savor any audience that comes my way. The important thing is I be brave and share my work.
Van Gogh stayed true to his artistic vision even though he was penniless. During his lifetime he never sold one painting. He could have painted in the style of the day to generate income. What courage that took and we are so much the beneficiaries of that courage years after his death. If only knew what a genius he was. If only he could have experienced his audience.
2 thoughts on “Van Gogh & the Question of Audience”
I sometimes find that the posts I write that I expect few “likes” for are the most complimented. Please do keep writing exactly what you want. Don’t worry about trying to please others. They will come. It’s great if you can get oodles of followers, but it is better to get fewer but more dedicated ones.
There is a great movie just out called Cezanne and I. Cezanne was not celebrated in his lifetime either. Though Cezanne did not have a mental illness like Van Gogh, he was always fighting the pain of others criticism and lack of recognition.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. At this point in my life, mid 60’s, I am determined to be who I am & not pretend anymore. It is a bit scary,but at the same time so liberating! This is me world.
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