Great Successes Who Died Failures — What If Van Gogh Never Painted the World?

They shaped our world without our permission — never let rejection stop you from writing, painting, thinking and creating

Originally published on Medium—Holly Kellums Feb 21 

Success appears to be less about the world wanting what we have to offer and more about our resolve to give it, even in the face of rejection. Most of the work that has made the greatest impact on our human existence was done without permission.

Perhaps there is truth in what we have heard 1,000 times but rarely live by.

Great success is not the result of our life’s work being discovered or accepted by the world. It is the result of our faith in our work and our commitment to share it and keep sharing it, with or without permission.

Every time I think about success, I think of Wayne Dyer and I smile with a little giggle. I picture him driving around the country, peddling himself for months at local book stores and radio stations before he became a best-selling author and internationally renowned guru.

Wayne Dyer achieved success by refusing to wait for permission to share his work with the world — literally. He drove his car around the country for months with a trunk full of his books to do so.

There are many, however, who continued to create their work and share it with the world for the sake of sharing it— with or without permission — and never achieved worldly success.

Those who shaped our world never waited for permission

Whatever we create and whatever we feel driven to share with the world, it is my hope that we will not stop creating it just because the world doesn’t see its greatness.

Keep writing, my friend. Keep painting. Keep dancing. Keep sharing your craft and your truth.

Just go — whatever it is you create, keep creating and whatever you feel driven to share, just keep sharing.

Do not wait for the approval of the world and certainly do not wait for the permission of the people around you.

Vincent van Goghis one of the most famous artists of all time and his influence on the history of Western art is beyond measure. During his lifetime he was deemed a failure and was shunned by society. It was not until after his alleged suicide that the world took notice of his world-changing work. He sold one painting in his entire life, yet the prices of those pieces he never sold are unrivaled today.

‘A Starry Night’ by Vincent van Gogh — Image by Prawny from Pixabay

The original of his most iconic painting, ‘The Starry Night’ would go for 1 billion dollars today — if it had a price. It doesn’t. It is the literal definition of priceless.

Edgar Allen Poeis a literary genius who, although rejected by a variety of literary establishments during his life, was celebrated by those same establishments after his death. His piece ‘The Raven’ sold for 9 dollars in 1845 and is now one of the most widely recognized poems in the world. You may know it, but if not, you have likely at least heard parts of it at some point in your life.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore — 
 While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door — 
 Only this and nothing more.”

He is known to have died, ‘drunk and penniless’ — yet he has since become the central figure of Romanticism and is accredited for the invention of multiple genres, including detective fiction and therefore the emergence of science fiction. He was said to have had a total of 7 people attend his funeral.

Galileowas a polymath who has been called the father of modern physics, modern science, observational astronomy and the scientific method. He was condemned for his discoveries and found ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’ and was sentenced to house arrest where he spent the rest of his life. His texts were banned by the Catholic Church.

Proportional Compass — Photo by Enzo Tommasi on Unsplash

During his life, he invented many things including the refracting telescope, pendulum clock and the proportional compass. His astronomical findings were unbelievable.

He discovered Jupiter’s moons, the stars of the milky-way, craters and mountains on the moon, and the phases of Venus.

He also championed Heliocentrism — which is the astronomical model we all use today of the earth and the planets revolving around the sun. Because of opposition from the Catholic Church and other astronomers he was forced to recant his views as they were deemed foolish and heretical. The same views that are widely accepted today were the views that he spent his entire life being persecuted for.

Imagining our world if Van Gogh had never painted it

Could you imagine our world if Van Gogh stopped painting it just because the world told him he was useless and insane — literally?

Could you imagine our world if Edgar Allen Poe had stopped writing because the literary world — and, therefore, the whole world — rejected his work?

Thinking about a world where either of them stopped creating their work because people didn’t want it or care about it brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

What would the human perception of our cosmic existence be without Galileo? How long would it have taken to find the milky way or would it have ever been found?

Without Galileo’s advancements in science and math, what may have happened differently in our world’s history?

What would we not have known that we needed to and how would that have changed the entire world? Would someone else have come along and invented the refracting telescope, pendulum clock and proportional compass?

We will never know the answers to these questions and we could never truly imagine what our world would be like if they would have stopped when the world discounted, disregarded and even persecuted them.

We can never know what a world without any of them would be like because the world we know was shaped by them. And those are just a few of the after-known unsuccessful people who changed the world.

There are countless others — even those who were never even recognized after they died, but whose resolve in their work shaped our very existence. Many of whom were and are women, lower class and minorities — whose work was intentionally hidden by the powerful and devious men who wrote history — sometimes hidden forever.

Van Gogh, Poe, Galileo and countless others lived terribly miserable lives — and they did so for you. They did so for me. They stood tall in the face of adversity, mass rejection and persecution, and they kept going — for us.

They kept going because they knew the world needed their gifts and they would not stop creating and sharing their work, no matter what excruciating existence they had to endure.

My final and dearest thoughts

I choose to keep going, too, and it is my hope that you will do the same.

I choose to keep going in the name of all the ones that we know kept going for us — and especially the ones we don’t know. I choose to keep going because in hundreds of years there will be people like me and you who need us to have persevered.

We must consider what we would be missing if they had listened to the world and what those who come after us will be missing if we do.

Who are we to silence ourselves because of what we call ‘cancel culture’, when Galileo was persecuted — literally — his entire life, for speaking his truth?

Who are we to rob the world of our gifts because we don’t get enough engagement on social media or we aren’t making thousands of dollars when Poe lived and died in poverty and loneliness so we could have his?

Who are we to stop painting the world, because no-one wants to buy our paintings when Van Gogh — living in the deepest societal shame you could imagine and being labeled as a complete lunatic —kept painting for us?

There is surely much more the world could have experienced if many, who did acquiesce to mass-rejection, would not have. We will never know what words we never read and what paintings we never got to see.

I will forever wonder what could have been if the people who stopped would have kept going. Maybe you will wonder with me and we can wonder together until the end of time.

I have written this with great love in my heart — love that stretches across time and oceans. I have written in hope that you will keep going, that I will keep going and that we will keep going.

I write with a hope that shoots through the fabric of my existence — a hope that as humans we have not been so oppressed and so fragmented that we have created an environment where the Poes, Van Goghs and Galileos of our time never come to be.

I hope that the children of our future will not still be referring to the same old stories I am referring to now. I hope that the living Van Goghs will keep painting, the living Poes will keep writing and the living Galileos will keep seeking, finding and sharing their discoveries.

My heart aches for all the thinkers, writers, artists, dreamers and creators who stopped writing, stopped thinking, stopped dreaming and stopped creating. But even more, my eyes water for the world — the books we never read, the art we never gazed upon in wonder, and the groundbreaking things that were never said.

There will be many more who silence themselves, squelch their creativity and simply stop going, when the world tells them, “No, we don’t want this”.

If with great privilege comes great responsibility, my greatest responsibility is to make sure I am not one of them and to encourage others to do the same.

We must keep painting the world.

Written by Holly Kellums

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn

Published by hollykellums

Internationally Published Author * Influencer * Recovery Coach * Human Potential Activist

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