Friday, February 8, 2013

What is the Artistic Temperament?

Vincent Van Gogh has often been described as having an artistic personality, creative personality or artistic temperament.  Sometimes Van Gogh is described as the definition of the artistic temperament.  What is an artistic temperament?  Let's put it this way -- it's not exactly a compliment.

Books like Bullying in the Arts: Vocation, Exploitation and Abuse of Power (Gower Publishing; 2011) describes the double-edged sword of having an artistic temperament -- you may produce works later labelled as "genius" but you also have mental illness and may wind up so lonely and miserable that you will kill yourself. 

Although not all people with artistic temperaments are alike, some generalities can be made.  Most people blessed/cursed with an artistic temperament display these ten qualities:

  1. Pursues a creative avenue, sometimes described as "having artistic inclinations"
  2. Prefers to work alone
  3. Shows or professes a love of nature
  4. Mood swings at unpredictable times
  5. Relationships with people have a low priority behind their work, their art and their own problems
  6. Although intelligent, they often aren't very wise in the practical ways of the world
  7. Swings between periods of tremendous energy and long periods of rest
  8. Is both introverted and extroverted, which basically means that they don't get on well with others
  9. Tries to be androgynous or blends characteristics of both genders without necessarily being gay
  10. Tries to be humble but deep down inside is really proud of their artwork.
Van Gogh certainly fits these qualities.  Others complained often about his mood swings and his intensity but to Van Gogh he was completely justified for feeling the way he did.  He loved meeting people and yet was so easily offended that he lived a mostly solitary life.  He wanted to be accepted and admired by other artists but balked at any suggestions, instructions or advice.  He certainly was intelligent (he spoke four languages) but he could not stick to a budget and never could figure out how to sell his work.  If he had a less abrasive personality, he may have at least broke even with his artwork.  But then he wouldn't have been Van Gogh.

The portrait of Vincent here is by John Peter Russell when Van Gogh lived in Paris in 1886.  Van Gogh didn't like it, but this a great portrait of how the world saw Van Gogh -- as looking at them from the shadows with a sideways stare.



  1. Your 10 characteristics of artistic temperment are mostly pure shit!

    1. Don't shoot the messenger, please. I was not the author of the list.

  2. I think these characteristics are SPOT on.. someone is just butthurt lol