There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting. 
-Mark Twain


I was thinking about people that are annoying when that quote caught my eye. 

People that are the most irritating can often have the biggest blind spots in recognizing their own bad behavior. And, on the other side of the coin, the receiver of the bad behavior can be just as imperceptive, aggravation getting in the way of understanding where the individual is coming from.

Vincent van Gogh was really annoying. 

It's made me suspect that I would've been one of the people that avoided him. 

And it's made me all the more curious about the people that stuck by him for so long, especially after his death. What motivated the main character of my book, Johanna van Gogh, to believe in Vincent?

To explore her motivation, this week I read through a slim book, Vincent van Gogh and Paris, written by curator Nienke Bakker and published by the Van Gogh Museum. It describes the two years Vincent lived with his brother Theo (1886 to 1888) in Paris, which overlapped when Johanna would have met Vincent. She would have witnessed the incredibly close relationship the two brothers had. Vincent was four years older than Theo, but Theo financially and emotionally supported his older brother. 

Here are a few things Johanna would have learned about Vincent: 

He hadn't been able to hold down a job.
He'd moved back home with his parents. 
He got a girl pregnant.
At 27 he decided to become a painter.
He asked his brother if he could move in with him in Paris. Theo agreed but requested Vincent wait so he could get a bigger place -- Vincent came immediately anyway.  
He was antisocial.
He wore old workman jackets spattered with paint. 
He could be embarrassing in public. 
He would go on and on about his own ideas and big dreams; yet, had only sold one painting (to another painter).

What would you think if you heard that description?

And how did others see Vincent? 

  • Bombastic. (From friend and fellow painter, Emile Bernard): "[Vincent was] Red-haired (goatee beard, ragged mustache, cap of close-cropped hair), with a piercing gaze and an incisive mouth...his gestures lively, his gait jerky, that was Van Gogh with, always, his pipe, a canvas...Vehement in his discourse, given to interminable explanations and a great developer of ideas...and dreams, ah! what dreams! Huge exhibitions, philanthropic phalansteries (gatherings) of artists, the foundation of [artist] colonies in the south."
  • Ignored. (From model Suzanne Valadron): "I remember Van Gogh coming to our weekly gatherings at [Toulouse] Lautrec's. He arrived carrying a heavy canvas under his arm, put it down in the corner but well in the light, and waited for us to pay some attention to it. No one took notice. He sat across from it, surveying the glances, seldom joining in the conversation. Then, tired, he would leave, carrying back his latest work. But the next week he would come back, commencing and recommencing with the same strategem."
  • Oblivious. (From fellow painter Paul Signac): "We painted on the riverbanks; we lunched at an open-air roadhouse, and we returned by foot to Paris...Van Gogh, dressed in a blue jacket of a zinc worker, had small dots of colour painted on his sleeves. Sticking quite close to me, he shouted and gesticulated, brandishing his large, freshly painted size 30 canvas  [2.5' x 3'] in such a way that he polychromed (spattered multiple colors of paint) himself and the passersby."

What a character! Yet, somehow beyond these external eccentricities Theo recognized something in Vincent's talent. Somehow, Johanna did too. 

For almost a hundred years, museum officials and gallery owners have spoken fearfully of the "Van Gogh syndrome." The Van Gogh syndrome is the worry that in our own lifetime, possibly right here in our midst, there is a major, visionary artist at work, whom we totally fail to recognize. 

In the brief span of five years, from 1885 - 1890, Vincent's work would evolve into such an explosion of creativity that eventually he would secure a place among the greatest artists of our time. In order for that to come about, Vincent's work had to become recognized.

Getting Vincent recognition became Johanna's life mission. She saw beyond Vincent's personality. How and why she did this intrigues me. Pursuing this question fits the reason I'm writing this book for in everything I do I believe in pushing against the edges of limitation. In everything I do I believe in finding connection.   

How I'm Writing the Book
Writing Craft: This week I continued work on my book's outline, breaking it down into two parts: 1) external scenes and then 2) the point of the scene. In other words, a scene is not just action but needs to include what's going on in my protagonist Johanna's heart - is she angry, fearful, motivated? I learned in last week's Blueprint Sprint class that it's the internal motivation behind action that makes for a compelling story. This outline is very difficult to write. (I'm writing and revising with a goal of a 3-page outline and I've only finished one page.)

Writing Community: I found another writer group! The St. Louis Publishers Association is made up of more than publishers but writers, graphic designers, etc. Within their ranks I found a small publisher that will do small print runs of just 25 - perfect for advance copies and to give as Christmas gifts! The group meets monthly so I'll be checking out a meeting in December. 

Research: In addition to reading the book mentioned earlier, I saw the movie "Loving Vincent." There's a little buzz around it because it's the world's first fully painted feature film. The entire film is rendered by hand with oil paints. The plot is centered around an investigation of Vincent's suicide and so the film is both sad and beautiful. 

Let me come back to Mark Twain to finish this post. I described Vincent as bombastic, ignored and oblivious -- maybe the only similarity Twain would have with Van Gogh is being bombastic for Twain was most definitely NOT ignored or oblivious.  He was a keen observer with a sharp wit:

To succeed in life you need two things: ignorance and confidence.