Imagine these circumstances:
A thirty-seven-year-old man has not held a steady job since he was twenty-seven, and he was fired from the six jobs he held until then in his adult life. He has fallen out with his father, lived with a pregnant prostitute and her daughter, and his younger brother gives him every dime he needs for food, housing, and supplies so he can paint. He claims (after saying he wanted to be a preacher, an art dealer, a tutor, and a bookstore clerk) he wants to be an artist, but every artist save one believes he simply isn’t at all good at it. The critics dismiss him as an amateur with no control over his craft, and everyone believes him to be a bum, a vagrant, a freeloader. He has a handful of maladies such as syphilis, bi-polar, manic depression, and “fits of dismay” we can today label as seizures, but in his day was simply considered signs of insanity. Four months after turning thirty-seven, he still has no job, sold no paintings, received no sign of hope from critics or artists, and has been rejected by women from his cousin to his landlord’s daughter.
Then on July 27th he shoots himself in the side (yes, he did it, not some teenager in town, not some unknown soul, he did it), and two days later on the 29th he dies. There seems every reason to consider this poor man has thrown away his life and took advantage of those he loved for some foolish “obsession” only he seems to believe in.
Yet, within a few dozen years he becomes one of the most influential, inspiring, and successful artists in the history of western culture. His letters found later reveal his passion to show others the humanity so overlooked in the poor and destitute of the world. In his day, this greatest of artists was considered the least of our brothers.
How many of us would pay attention to such a character, listen to what he has to say, get close enough to understand what bothers him, motivates him? How many of us would simply walk past this man?
I am not suggesting we are surrounded by genius disguised as misunderstood, downtrodden individuals. But it seems believing in others even when no one else does, especially when no one else does, can change a person’s life, and who knows what kind of ripple effect that might have.
“I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.“
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?“