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Book Club Update | Van Gogh the Life

by Jason Horejs on 05/15/2013 · 10 comments

Hopefully you have all obtained your copy of Van Gogh the Life and have started your daily reading to get through the book in time for our Book Club meeting in August. I am immersed in the book and have to pull myself away from it most nights.

I find this biography to be one of the best written artist biographies I have ever read. The authors, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, have done an incredible job of bringing Van Gogh to life. So many of the artist biographies I read spend much of their time explaining the broader art history of the artist’s time and are limited in the intimate personal details they can provide about their subject. I’m sure this is often due to limited source materials, but it results in a somewhat impersonal understanding of the events of an artist’s life. Luckily for us, Van Gogh was a prolific, obsessive letter writer, and through these letters we are able to see right into his life and troubled emotions.

By now you will have read of Vincent’s difficult childhood and his already difficult relationship with his parents, who found him odd, distant and uncooperative. I found it interesting that, while most artists will show a propensity for art from a very early age, Van Gogh didn’t. There were perhaps hints of an artistic temperament (if there really is such a thing), but certainly no early drawings or interest in art. Even after going to work for his uncle, a famous art dealer, Vincent didn’t exhibit any interest in creating art. Learning about Van Gogh’s youth, it’s almost surprising to me that he became an artist. I won’t spoil anything if you haven’t gotten there yet, but his journey to become an artist is a painful one.

I’m looking forward to our discussion at the book club meeting to find out if you identify with Vincent’s early life.

Please share any thoughts you have about the book so far in the comments below.

Don’t Forget

Please send a photo of yourself with the book for our reader wall to I’ve only received a few pictures so far – send yours today!

Book Club Meeting

Online, Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. Pacific


If you haven’t already registered for the meeting, you can do so at:

The Book

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Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

kathryn May 15, 2013 at 11:48 am

sounds like an awesome book…just placed my order!


Katrina West May 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Many years ago I read the book ‘Lust for Life’ by Irving Stone (also saw the movie with Kirk Douglas) and I am struck by the contrast so far I am seeing in these two portrayals of Vincent Van Gogh. Naifeh and Smith have done an excellent job so far (I am only to p.50) and I agree with what Jason has said mostly. I am not surprised Vincent turned to painting even though he didn’t seem that interested in it as a child. His obsession with orderliness (the collections) and his feelings of alienation from his family and society in general make him a perfect artistic candidate. Control and expression were obviously very important to him.
Incidentally, I’m really excited to be reading this book as Van Gogh has been a favorite of mine since I began to paint 40 years ago and I have seen as many of his exhibits as I could visit. Still haven’t been to the Netherlands to see the museum.


Bill Hobler May 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm

It is interesting that at 11 years old Vincent produced a drawing for his father’s birthday that looks fairly good for so young a person who has no formal art instruction. Yet this capability seems to go unnoticed except by his sister Anna.

I too would have become even more withdrawn as I find no support of what I can do.


Bonnie Wilber May 15, 2013 at 11:14 pm

I am about 20% through the book. it is about the slowest read I have gotten on my new Kindle HD. It is painful reading about the tough emotional start Vincent is having.


JR Lancaster May 16, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I have read this book twice and find it one of the best researched and most comprehensive works on Vincent ever written. The amount of research the authors did makes the trials of Hercules look like mere child’s play. Their observations are nothing short of brilliant and they have done a fine job of providing an unbiased interpretation of Vincent the man as well as Vincent the artist. A most excellent choice for the book club readers.


Jacquelyn Judd May 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm

I love this book. The authors are telling me a riveting story about a wondrous artist, and I am glued to the page as they do. Van Gogh is my favorite artist, in part because I love his vibrant, thick paint, but especially because of his politics. Better than fiction!


Cyncie Winter May 18, 2013 at 7:49 am

I am woefully behind on the book but determined to get my 10-15 pages in each day, which is going to be pretty easy because I adore this book. So very well-written and researched! I am fascinated by the historical backdrop that shaped cultural and personal beliefs, all of which influenced Van Gogh’s beliefs and interaction with the world. Certainly, we all are a composite of such things.


Jo Allebach May 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I am about half way through this book and find it very interesting. The way the authors do not pull any punches makes this a riveting read.
I like, Vincent, did not really take an interest in creating art as a child. My parents were also not very responsive to any attempt that I did make at making art. My own concern with accomplishing a perfect item made it difficult to pursue the activity. As Vincent with his drawing that was good and he tore up and did not try again until much later in his short life.
I have read several books, old and new, about Van Gogh but this one really gives the profound information of his somewhat squalid life and the obsessions he was dealing with his whole life.
I am eager to read on.


William Worcester June 12, 2013 at 8:30 am

I’m about half way through the book. The authors did an incredible job of all the details of Van Gogh’s life. I am finding Vincent to be not as likable a character as my old image of him as a misunderstood, but dedicated artist. He seemed to bring trouble on himself and was gifted at alienating people who actually were trying to help him. The book has shattered many illusions I have had about him, those illusions based on other not so in-depth biographies and museum gift shop images of his artwork on umbrellas, etc. I still like his art, but as a professional artist myself, will look to other artistic role models for examples of living life as an artist and marketing my work.


sandy June 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I find this book intriguing but also troubling. On the one hand I can’t put it down because it is so well written and extremely interesting to follow VanGogh’s life, but on the other hand I think I am detecting indicators of his perhaps being Bipolar???? Great read no matter.


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