Last Updated 09 Jan 2023

An Analysis of the Creative Nature of Vincent van Gogh in the Criteria of S.I. Hayakawa

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Creativity is defined by The Oxford Dictionary as the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. S.I. Hayakawa expands on that definition and adds that someone who is creative is able to break outside the norm and come up with new solutions to old problems. Hayakawa has a set of criteria that one must meet to be creative. Vincent van Gogh is generally considered creative, so how does he compare when set to Hayakawa’s criteria? Vincent van Gogh fits S.I. Hayakawa’s criteria for a creative individual by exhibiting his ability to endure loneliness, entertain diverse ideas and examine his own feelings. One of Hayakawa’s criteria for creativity is one’s ability to endure loneliness. A creative person must be comfortable with solitude because their work may be ahead of its time. Consider Van Gogh who, in a letter to his brother Theo, said that being alone was not worrisome because he had “found the brighter sun and its effect on nature so absorbing”.

Van Gogh accepts his loneliness and uses it to find inspiration for his artwork. A creative person must also be okay with self-imposed exile. In early July of 1890 Van Gogh writes his brother and sister-in- law that he “should greatly like to come and see [them but] what holds [him] back is... that [he] should be more powerless than [them] in the present state of anxiety”. Van Gogh allows the loneliness in, and by doing so is not crushed by the weight of it. Another criteria for creativity set forth by Hayakawa is the ingenuity to play with ideas not seen as important or significant. Thinking outside the box creates answers to difficulty questions or proposes new thought provoking questions. In his letters, Van Gogh contemplates the idea of death on many occasions. In a letter to Theo in 1888 Van Gogh remarks that “in a painters life death is not perhaps the hardest thing there is”. Van Gogh is pushing aside the norm- that death is the hardest thing a person will face in their lifetime- and propose that some have it worse. Van Gogh also expounds on the idea that people will flock to the familiar because they are not sure enough of themselves to use the liberty they are given. Van Gogh’s thoughts and ideas are controversial but that is why it speaks to his creativity.

Hayakawa states that to be creative one must be sure of their feelings. Not only to recognize what one is feeling but also be able to realize why one is feeling a certain way. Van Gogh warns his brother “that everyone will think that [Van Gogh] works to fast. Don’t... believe a word of it.” Van Gogh is confident in himself and his work and implores his brother to ignore the critics who only wish to tear him down. As Van Gogh’s mind starts to wither he tells Theo that he no longer fears madness and even suggests that madness is a disease. At a time when madness was evidence of sin or witchcraft to suggest that it was actually a disease plaguing the mind shows again Van Gogh’s knack for controversial ideas but asserts his own certainty in himself. Using Hayakawa’s criteria, Vincent Van Gogh is assuredly still considered to be one of the most creative minds in history. Hayakawa’s criteria also shows that not only painters, photographers, or writers should be considered creative. Critical thinkers can be thought of as creative and so can teachers and graduate students. Creativity is constantly sought after and a select group- when compared using Hayakawa’s criteria- actually stand the test and prove not to just be a good idea or insight in a single instant.

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