What Van Gogh can teach us about persistence

Starry night over the RhôneI visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam recently and, to my surprise, I left the exposition having learned something that matters beyond art.

According to his biography,

Van Gogh began to draw as a child, and he continued to draw throughout the years that led up to his decision to become an artist. He did not begin painting until his late twenties, completing many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints. [...]

Before focusing on painting, he worked as an art dealer, teacher and missionary. It wasn’t until he was 32 that he painted his first major work.

He did not have the fortune of being recognized as a talented artist in his young age like Michelangelo and others and yet still he did not let go of his desire of becoming a painter. The thing that strikes most of the museum is the quantity of studies and sketches Van Gogh made throughout his live in order to improve his skills. He wanted to paint so much that he kept practicing and put so much effort in improving that it eventually paid off: he is now remembered as the author of dozens of the most renown paintings of the history of art.

In an age where the reference point to define an accomplishment is starting a company at 16 and become a billionaire at 22, we risk underestimating the value of persistence. Sure, he did not reach fame and success while he was alive, and his life was not what you would define “happy”. But if he had quit because he was not an accomplished painter in his young age, art now would certainly be very different from what we know.

The works of Van Gogh are a proof that there is no such thing as being too late to accomplish something remarkable.

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