VINCENT VAN GOGH:
Excerpts from the Letters
JAPANESE ARTISTS LIVE IN NATURE
To Theo, Arles, n.d. [ca. September 1888]
If we study japanese art, we see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philosophic and
intelligent, who spends his time doing what? I studying the distance between the
earth and the moon? No. In studying Bismarc's policy? No. He studies a single
blade of grass.
But this blade of grass leads him to draw every plant and then the seasons,
the wide aspects of the countryside, then animals, then the human figure. So he
passes his life, and life is too short to do the whole.
Come now, isn't it almost a true religion which these simple Japanese
teach us, who live in nature as though they themselves were flowers?
And you cannot study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming
much gayer and happier, and we must return to nature in spite of our education
and our work in a world of convention.
Isn't it sad that the Monticellis have never yet been reproduced in good
lithographs or in etchings which vibrate with life? I should very much like to
know what artists would say if an engraver like the man who engraved the
Velasquez made a fine etching of them. Never mind, I think it is more our job to
try to admire and know things for ourselves than to teach them to other people.
But the two can go together.
I envy the Japanese the extreme clearness which everything has in their
work. It is never tedious, and never seems to be done too hurriedly. Their work is
as simple as breathing, and they do a figure in a few sure strokes with the same