“Self-Portrait” by Vincent van Gogh (1889), National Gallery of Art (Accession No. 1998.74.5), Source (PD-Art, PD-old)

The artist Vincent van Gogh led a tragic life.  His art – now lauded – was ahead of its time, and unappreciated by the public.  Tormented by loneliness, Vincent longed desperately for love and friendship, but had difficulty with both.

However, Vincent and his brother, Theo, were extremely close.  Amsterdam’s van Gogh Museum is holding an exhibition in which contemporary artists and writers have responded to the hundreds of letters Vincent wrote Theo.  In these letters, Vincent movingly described his hopes and fears.  See,  and .

Below is an excerpt from the letter novelist, Nicole Krauss crafted [1].  I believe abuse victims may find it helpful.

“Dear Vincent,

You write about fear:  Fear of the blank canvas, but also, on a larger scale, of the ‘infinitely meaningless, discouraging blank side’ that life itself always turns toward us…

Repeating Old Patterns

It’s a strange thing about the human mind that, despite its capacity and its abundant freedom, its default is to function in a repeating pattern.  It watches…the days and seasons, the cycle of life and death all going around in an endless loop, and unconsciously…echoes these cycles.  Its thoughts go in loops, repeating patterns established so long ago we often can’t remember their origin, or why they ever made sense to us.  And even when these loops fail over and over again to bring us to a desirable place, even while they entrap us… [we] still find it nearly impossible to resist them.  We call these patterns of thought our ‘nature’ and resign ourselves to being governed by them as if they are the result of a force outside of us…

Breaking with the Past

And yet it is unquestionably within our power to break the loop…by choosing to think — and to see, and act — in a different way.  It may require enormous effort and focus.  And yet for the most part it isn’t laziness that stops us from breaking these loops, it’s fear…


And so before we can arrive at the act of breaking, we first have to confront our fear.  The fear that the blank canvas and the blank side of life reflects back to us, which is so paralyzing, as you put it, and seems to tell us that ‘we can’t do anything.’  It’s an abstract fear, though it finds a way to take on endless shapes.  Today it may be the fear of failure, but tomorrow it will be the fear of what others will think of us, and at a different time it will be fear of discovering that the worst things we suspect about ourselves are true…


[F]ear, being anticipatory, is always without knowledge.  It is a mental calculation based on the future unknown.  And yet the experience of fear is the experience of being in the grip of a sensation that seems to possess an unassailable conviction in itself…Bravery is always more intelligent than fear, since it is built on the foundation of what one knows about oneself:  the knowledge of one’s strength and capacity, of one’s passion.  You implied as much in your letter…


And so we find ourselves, once again, in front of the blank canvas…which reflects both our fear and our opportunity to break it.  In Jewish mysticism, the empty space — the Chalal Panui, in Hebrew — has tremendous importance, because it was the necessary pre-condition for God’s creation of the world.  How did the Ein Sof — the being without end, as God is called in Kabbalah — create something finite within what is already infinite?  And how can we explain the paradox of God’s simultaneous presence and absence in the world?  And the answer to this, according to the Kabbalah, is that when it arose in God’s will to create the world, He first had to withdraw Himself, leaving a void.  To create the world, God first had to create an empty space.

Knowledge and Freedom

And so we might say:  The first act of creation is not a mark, it is the nullification of the infinity that exists before the first mark.  To make a mark is to remember that we are finite.  It is to break, or violate, the illusion that we are nature that goes around in a loop forever.  But it is also a confirmation of our knowledge and freedom, which is all we have in this world.


Nicole Krauss”

[1]  Because of the length of the original text, subheadings have been added for the reader’s convenience.



Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

22 responses to “Vincent

  1. Anna, a very tragic life of a genius… so often forgotten until after death.

  2. It seems like the leftovers from what I was given will be permanent, and be growing up to continue to work in my adulthood from those who think I can handle anything. As an additional item, adults in my family shun me cause they they think I haven’t lived up to their standards. Still love them.

    • As you know, God’s standards are the ones that really matter. “…the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16: 7). He has the power to uphold us, scars and all. ❤

  3. Just reading of such despairing loneliness makes one shudder in fear.

  4. Great post Anna,
    I never knew the history of Vincent van Gogh, except he was a very talented artist.. Thank you for sharing !

  5. I really enjoyed reading these pieces. I like the way you guided our thoughts with the subtitles. This is a great read. Thanks, Anna. Love and blessings!

    • I am so glad you enjoyed the post, Gbolabo. I wanted to include it on the website to offer abuse victims (and others) hope. While it is important we remain vigilant against evil, and critical that we understand our motivation, we cannot focus exclusively on a dark past. To do that is to destroy the present and undermine the future. Love and blessings, A.

  6. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    I greatly enjoyed reading this post. As an artist I had to study the work of Van Gogh and I find that I truly admired some of his paintings but not necessarily those that are more famous and well known. He was most certainly a tragic figure and it must be noted that during the periods of time when his mental illness caused him to be interned in hospital, he did not paint or draw…Anna, this is a great post! Thank you for such important information.
    May you have a lovely Tuesday afternoon,
    All the best and my greetings,

  7. Allan Halton

    Something to meditate on, perhaps it will be helpful to some:
    In Christ, the canvas is not blank.
    “For we are His workmanship (His work-or-art) created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before prepared that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

  8. His life is beautiful….Tragic… And you are absolutely right:loneliness, that relational chasm that separates individuals, can be overwhelming.
    Awesome post.

  9. theburningheart

    Great post, I enjoyed it. 🙂

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