Thursday, March 19, 2015


 Vincent Van Gogh used to eat yellow paint because he thought it would get the happiness inside him. Many people thought he was mad and stupid for doing so because the paint was toxic


As far as I can tell this is unsourced, off someone's two-year-old freewriting on a blog, and no, van Gogh didn't eat yellow paint to GET HAPPY. His doctor and an asylum attendant both witnessed him drinking turpentine in a suicide attempt (possibly even several different attempts; sometimes it's reported as kerosene). This is right out of that soppy Vincent & Theo movie, which, while sweet, was really inaccurate in places, and also there's a bad docudrama in which Andy Serkis (yes, Gollum played van Gogh) noshes on an entire tube of yellow paint. I haven't seen it, but presumably he squeezes it right into his mouth as if it's orange fake hot nacho cheese from a can or something.

And! There is A LETTER ONLINE in which his brother says

In his first letter (Vincent's doctor) gave me to understand that it was dangerous for you to go on painting, as the colours were poison to you, but he went a little too far, which might have been due to his having relied on unverified rumours, as he himself was ill at the time.

So that sounds to me a lot more like "That crazy bastard, he even eats his paints!" which got passed on via unsympathetic people. Not anything verifiable.

Oil paint was FUCKING EXPENSIVE. Vincent didn't have any supplies unless Theo sent him money for him, and if you read the letters, he was desperate to work. Not to eat paint. An artist is not going to stand there while painting and just lick his palette like it's a fucking Creamsicle. (Also, have you ever fucking tasted oil paint? I have, because I used to do terrible oil paintings on paper in my twenties, and would inevitably forget and bite my nails, a longstanding terrible habit. It tastes GODAWFUL. Worse than it smells, which is impressive.)

van Gogh was not some kind of whacked-out baby or John Green hero sucking on his paint tubes. He was a grown man! An intelligent, articulate artist. His letters are probably some of the most moving documents on earth. Put them on the moon in an airtight box, instead of Richard M. Nixon's plaque, so if aliens ever get here, we'll know what the best of us was. Yes, I said that.

-- Why does this fucking upset me so? (I checked, I've been annoyed about it for days, I got enough sleep, and I took my medz.) I know, I know, forget it Jake it's Tumblr, and this is one of the reasons I got off Tumblr, all those huge posts about utter bullshit being passed around and affirmed and reblogged and quoted without a second thought. Or a first thought even. It's got something like 450K notes and will probably go well past that. It's's just everything I detest about modern online culture. It's not sourced. It's pathetic. It's syrupy. It's so sentimental it made me gag. (People get on me all the time about how Schindler's List is sentimental, but THIS? This is sentimental bullshit.) It's right out of the endless fucking cliches about how artists are permanently off their nuts! and do Whacky Things! because they are Artistic! and it is necessary to be in pain and be whacky to do Art! and I believed all that, sure, when I was about seventeen.

If you were so unhappy that even the maddest ideas could possible work, like painting the walls of your internal organs yellow, than you are going to do it. It’s really no different than falling in love or taking drugs....

I just, I seriously can't even believe this terrible bullshit. Eating paint (or drinking kerosene) is like falling in love or taking drugs? What the actual shit? It's not even that someone was dumb enough to write this (we've all written dumb things, I'm sure when I was young and dumb I wrote even dumber shit) (yes, probably about van Gogh and Plath, too) or that it's gotten popular, it's that people just don't fucking bother to think about it. Why read van Gogh himself, or think about mental illness or addiction or art, when you can just pass along the equivalent of a virtual chain letter instead?

This shit has NOTHING to do with van Gogh, or mental illness, or art. You could swap in "Spongebob Squarepants" and it would make the same fucking amount of sense. If not moreso. It's a misconception about a shitload of sentimental misconceived cultural cliches that's just taken up happily into an endless echo chamber and there's no way to stop it, let alone fix it. How many people have read that letter of Theo's online? Probably far fewer than people who have clicked "Reblog" as happily as mindlessly as a rat in a lab seeking the next happy hit.

("That's my secret. I'm always angry." When dealing with Tumblr, apparently.)