Vincent van Gogh on the Artist’s Responsibility Before Art

What is artist’s responsibility before art? In the age of generative AI and commodification of human creativity, this question may seem pointless. Now anyone can be a writer, a painter, an artist — and make a profit.

So why strive? Why even bother with a creative process when AI can do it faster and easier for you? The answer — and a gentle reminder — comes from none other than Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853–July 29, 1890) saved for posterity in the biographical novel Lust for Life.

In the Book Two of the novel, young Vincent and his mother Anna Cornelia talk about art and a way for the artist to make a living. Here’s my favorite part of that conversation.

Van Gogh and his mother.

Vincent’s mother asks:

You can draw people’s faces, can’t you? I’m sure lots of women here in Etten would like to have their portraits painted. There’s a living in that.

Yes, I suppose so. But I’ll have to wait until my drawing is right.

His mother was breaking eggs into a pan of sour cheese she had strained the day before. She paused with half the shell of an egg in each hand and turned from the stove.

You mean you have to make your drawing right so the portraits will be good enough to sell?

‘No,’ replied Vincent, sketching rapidly with his pencil, ‘I have to make my drawing right so that my drawing will be right.’

Van Gogh’s Lust for Life was also his lust for art — something that all artists feel deeply within their hearts. Don’t let AI, or anyone else, take that away from you.

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