How Vincent van Gogh Can Inspire Highly Sensitive People

A highly sensitive person holds a book about Vincent van Gogh

Like many HSPs, Vincent van Gogh appreciated the little things in life, which was apparent in his art, like “Starry Night.”

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous painters of all time. Passionate, hardworking, and prolific, he spent the latter of his tragic life pouring his emotions into art. When all else failed — his love life, his numerous career paths, and financial stability — art gave him the true happiness that he deserved and needed. In just a decade, he created around 2,100 works of art; in fact, 40 percent of his work alone was made in the last two years of his life in France.

Like many other artists — including Frida Kahlo — Van Gogh is believed to be a highly sensitive person (HSP). Lately, I have been rereading Irving Stone’s Lust For Life, a biography about Van Gogh’s life from when he was a 21-year-old clerk at an art dealership to an impassioned artist in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. From the first time I perused the riveting novel, I related to his ways of feeling deeply — the way he unabashedly felt glee, melancholy, passion, and anger. It was only recently that I developed the notion that Van Gogh may have been highly sensitive like I am. He even curtailed his return to Paris after just a few days — the external stimuli (like noise and activity) were too much.

Also recently, I listened to Lianne La Havas’s cover of the song “Vincent” (used in the credits of the 2017 film Loving Vincent), originally penned and performed by Don Mclean. In the comments section, a commenter mused how many other HSPs are like Van Gogh — misunderstood, deeply-feeling souls who may not be remembered as he was.

However, whether Van Gogh was highly sensitive or not, his life and philosophy can be useful to many HSPs. Here’s how.

5 Ways HSPs Can Be Inspired by Vincent van Gogh 

1. He saw beauty in the most unlikely of places.

Many of Van Gogh’s first works were of poor peasants. He sketched images of ordinary people going about their lives — eating, working, sitting. Even when the opportunity presented itself to draw other things, he’d go back to his roots. (In writings about him, he expressed that it was where he was most comfortable.) 

He didn’t care to draw rich and luxurious people — he saw no character in them. He saw beauty in what was not deemed extraordinary. He drew nature, skies, and food. These are some of his most acclaimed works today. As an HSP, I’m sure you can relate to him finding beauty in the little things.

2. He never stopped caring for others, even when he needed kindness himself.

Before he settled down to become a painter, Van Gogh worked as a clergyman. He preached the word of God to miners in the Borinage. He also subjected himself to living their lifestyle of poverty, giving away the remainder of his clothes, and his mattress, to those in need. He only ate as much as the miners did, too, even though he suffered from fever, illness, and weight loss. 

When he moved to The Hague shortly thereafter, he took in a lonely prostitute named Christine. He saw through her sordid appearance and fell in love with the beauty of her soul. Although the marriage did not last due to financial issues, he loved Christine for who she was, a side others likely did not see. We can surmise that he used his intuition — an HSP trait — when following his heart in pursuing the relationship.

3. He never backed down from a challenge.

Van Gogh’s artistry did not come easily to him. The lines he drew were clumsy, the arrangement of his models flawed, and his figures were mocked and criticized. Many times, he was told that he was not a good artist.

But instead of giving up and believing that he would never succeed, he asked questions endlessly to figure out how to fix his work. (Sound familiar, HSPs? Many of us are inquisitive in pursuing our true purpose in life.) 

And even when his teachers turned him away, he found others to help him. He worked for hours every single day, from five in the morning to the time the sun set. Even when he did not believe in himself, he kept going — because art was what gave him utmost joy.

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4. He turned his pain into something beautiful.

You’ve probably heard about the pain and tragedy that Van Gogh had to endure. For instance, for many years, he lived on dry bread and coffee alone (and sometimes nothing). Furthermore, many of the women he loved either rejected him or ended up leaving him. His parents, though kind and loving to their son, did not understand why their son wanted to be an artist and refused to be ardent supporters of his work. 

The only familial fan Van Gogh seemed to have was his brother, Theo, who gave him a monthly allowance so he could survive and create more artwork. Many times, Van Gogh expressed that he was a lonely soul, which was a theme he strived to show in his work, as well. He also struggled with mental illness, suffering from insomnia and severe depressive episodes.

I think a lot of us HSPs can relate to turning hardship into something beautiful, whether we express it through art, writing, music, or what have you.   

5. His sensitivity made him who he was.

Without Van Gogh’s sensitivity, works like “Starry Night” (1889) and “Almond Blossoms” (1890) would not have been made. In a letter to his brother, Van Gogh mused that he wanted viewers of his art to know his heart, to know that he felt “deeply and tenderly.”

Like many HSPs, he had a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature. He felt that the natural world was giving him ideas to use to cover his canvases. He would spend hours every day sketching outside, no matter the weather. Heavy storms did nothing to deter his productivity — he loved it and it only spurred him on more. 

In essence, his giving heart was what enabled him to give to others even when he barely had anything for himself. His purpose for being an artist was to heal, both others and himself.

The Gifts of High Sensitivity

Van Gogh is remembered and treasured as a staple of modern art. He is considered one of the most influential painters in the whole world. Yet, while he was alive, he barely sold any of his paintings — and people spoke harshly about him and yelled obscenities at his windows. A petition even aimed to get him evicted from town. 

He was often misunderstood because of the unique way he expressed himself. (I know I can relate, and I’m sure other HSPs can, as well.) The genius of his sensitive mind is visible in his paintings, which are now some of the most famous and expensive pieces of art in the world.

All in all, Van Gogh teaches us to be ourselves, to express ourselves how loudly, ardently, and chaotically we’d like to if that’s the way we feel we can truly get our point across. He never gave up on the goodness of people and humanity; even after being bullied and tormented by people throughout most of life, his heart never changed. Even when the world told him to calm down —  and made fun of him for his eccentricity — he did not change. It was what made him great, it was what made him who he was. He was unique and different — and that is precisely one of the reasons he is still remembered today.

So, my fellow HSPs, do not change. Stay just the way you are and keep filling this world with your beautiful light. You will be remembered for it, too.

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