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The fates of talented persons often have similar milestones that affect their personal development and interest in art. Referring to Franz Kafka and Vincent van Gogh, it is necessary to state that these prominent personalities influenced the art of the 19th-20th centuries significantly. The lives of these men and their artistic paths seem to be connected in terms of inner motives that influenced their creative works.
In this context, it is important to discuss in detail the unique connection that can be observed in relation to Vincent van Gogh and Franz Kafka. Although van Gogh and Kafka realized their creative intentions in different areas of art, they had the remarkable connection in terms of sharing problems in family relations; having problems in personal relations; struggling to find their identity and place in the life with the focus on religion; having problems with the psychological and mental health; sharing the dramatic end of the short life; and receiving the public recognition only after the death.
Kafka and van Gogh were born during the late part of the nineteenth century, and they became the most intriguing representatives of the European culture. Van Gogh was born in Zundert, Netherlands, in 1853, and he became one of the most prominent Dutch Post-Impressionist painters. In spite of the fact that the painter was not famous during his life, the critics admitted his unique style and passion reflected in used colors and techniques (Brower, 2000, p. 180).
Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. He grew in the German-speaking family of Jews, and he had to conceal his interest in literature. As a result, Kafka’s complicated and absurd works became known to the wide public only after his death (Epstein, 2013, p. 49). Thus, the contribution of these talents to the culture of the nations cannot be overestimated. However, the detailed discussion of the artist and writer’s life and works is necessary to conclude about their unique connection.
The Life and Works of Vincent van Gogh
The birth of Vincent van Gogh was marred by the fact that he was born on the day of the first anniversary of his elder brother’s death. The parents of young Vincent spoke much about that child. Hyams notes that the child experience could significantly contribute to developing the overwhelming feel of guilt and to progress of the posttraumatic disorder in Vincent (Hyams, 2003, p. 95). Although the parents cared for the boy’s future, they lacked to demonstrate the enough support and love, and Vincent had rather problematic relations with his mother (Potter, 2003, p. 1194). As a result, Vincent felt he could not meet the parents’ expectations, he felt guilt and anxiety, and he often suffered from insomnia, self-doubt, and depression.
Vincent tried to find himself in life while following both paths typical for his family: the art dealer’s path and the clergyman’s path. However, these paths could not satisfy Vincent. Thus, the man travelled much and almost eked out his existence. Nevertheless, Vincent seemed to find appeasement in creating art works. In the 1880s, Vincent started to practice in painting, and his first works were significantly influenced by the other artists (Brower, 2000, p. 180). Thus, the young artist started to paint peasant characters, and his works were rather peaceful in their nature.
However, the real breakthrough in the artist’s style was associated with his latest works. Van Gogh focused on using extremely bright colors. The Yellow House (1888) and Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888) painted in yellow and orange colors belong to this period. Van Gogh concentrated on expressing his visions and feelings in the art works (Brower, 2000, p. 181). As a result, the objects in paintings represent the images of Vincent’s broken soul in a form of flowers’ broken stems or dead trees.
Although being involved in painting, Van Gogh suffered from signs of the mental illness, and he needed treatment as well as the moral support. The only person who could help him was his brother Theo (Wilfred Niels, 2004, p. 23). The situation was complicated with the fact that Van Gogh’s works were not actively sold or popular. The feeling of loneliness, anxiety, and depression led to the artist’s suicide in 1890.
The Life and Works of Franz Kafka
Since childhood, Franz Kafka needed to resolve the difficult question of his identity and to adapt to the family rules set by the despotic father. Kafka experienced difficulties with understanding his role within the Czech majority of Prague. Durval notes that Kafka could not feel protection and security in the society because of being the German-speaking Jew, and he could not find the support at home because of his tyrannical father (Durval, 2011 p. 230). To address the father’s expectations, Kafka had to follow the career path that was in contrast to his own visions and implications.
Kafka struggled to find the balance between his isolation at home, desire to write, and desire to win the father’s recognition. Thus, the young man became interested in his origins and began to study more about the Jewish culture (Lin-Xian, 2009, p. 26). The results of the writer’s daily thoughts on Judaism and concerns about his place in the world were reflected in such his works as “The Metamorphosis” (1912) and The Trial (1914).
The writer tried to find the relief in his writings where he represented inner feelings on the relations with the father and society. These works seemed to reflect the author’s possible psychological problems and depressions because the idea of the suicide is observed in many Kafka’s works (Hung, 2013, p. 437). The works reflected the author’s concerns in a form of absurd, illogical, and darkened images.
Kafka’s writings became known to the public because of the efforts of his best friend Max Brod who published the author’s works after his death without Kafka’s permission. Kafka’s grotesque works became extremely popular among the audience and critics (Epstein, 2013, p. 49). Later, the author’s unique style became known as “Kafkaesque”.
The Unique Connection Shared by Franz Kafka and Vincent van Gogh
Referring to the research on Kafka and van Gogh’s life and works, it is possible to state that the artist and writer’s personality were significantly traumatized by their relations in families. The religious parents of Vincent were focused on the tragedy in their family, and his depressive mother impacted the development of the boy significantly. In his turn, Kafka experienced difficulties in communication with his father who was rather tyrannical (Durval, 2011 p. 230). The results of such family relations were the feel of guilt in both men who saw they could not realize the expectations of their parents.
The problems in the personal life were also typical for the artist and the writer. Thus, during his life, Van Gogh had no opportunity to become happy because he fell in love with his widowed cousin, but he was rejected, and the artist found the support in Clasina Maria Hoornik, a prostitute suffering from alcoholism who became Van Gogh’s model (Brower, 2000, p. 181). Kafka also had dramatic love stories. The writer was engaged several times, but he seemed to break relationships at any cost. Still, Milena Jesenska, a translator and editor, played the key role not only in the writer’s personal life but also in his creative life because she helped in publishing Kafka’s writings.
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Both van Gogh and Kafka experienced problems with determining their identity and finding the place in the life. Van Gogh found his solace in the religion. Kafka also discussed religion as the way to determine his identity because he suffered from being a German-speaking Jew among the Czech population. Therefore, the religion and the creative work became the important steps toward their identity.
However, a variety of child complexes and traumas caused psychological and mental disorders in both men. Van Gogh needed the regular therapy during his latest part of the life and thought about suicide (Hyams, 2003, p. 96). Kafka also suffered from the obsessive thoughts about suicide (Hung, 2013, p. 437). These sufferings and ideas were reflected in Van Gogh’s works painted in an eccentric manner and in Kafka’s hypochondriac writings.
As a result, both men shared the dramatic end in their short lives. Van Gogh committed suicide because of his psychological instability, and Kafka seemed to die from the moral and physical exhaustion in spite of such conditions as tuberculosis and starvation. Neither the artist nor the writer was publicly recognized before their death. This aspect adds more dramatism to van Gogh and Kafka’s life stories.
Today, Vincent Van Gogh and Franz Kafka are the most recognizable representatives of their art movements developed in the 19th-20th centuries. Although their lives were not actually connected, their life experiences and visions of the world represented in the art can be compared to demonstrate the unique connection shared by the authors.
Brower, R. (2000). To Reach a Star: the creativity of Vincent van Gogh. High Ability Studies, 11(2), 179-205.
Brower analyzes van Gogh’s creativity with refereces to his personal writings like letters and notes.
Durval, J. (2011). On Franz Kafka’s “Letter to my father”. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 20(1), 229-232.
The authors discusses Kafka’s letter to the father as the source of the inoaftion about the writer’s relations in the family and identity.
Epstein, J. (2013). Is Franz Kafka overrated? Atlantic, 312(1), 48-50.
The author discusses the nature of praise for Kafka’s works.
Hung, R. (2013). Caring about strangers: A Lingisian reading of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”. Educational Philosophy & Theory, 45(4), 436-447.
The author discusses the philosophical question of caring about a stranger with references to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”.
Hyams, H. (2003). Trauma post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the case of Vincent Van Gogh. International Journal of Psychotherapy, 8(2), 95-107.
In the article, the author defends the vision that Van Gogh suffered from the PTSD that caused his unique painting style and further suicide.
Lin-Xian, L. (2009). Analysis of the aesthetic artistic characteristics in The Trial. US-China Foreign Language, 7(9), 25-32.
The author discusses the receptive aesthetics of Kafka’s work in the article.
Potter, P. (2003). Vincent Van Gogh. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 9(9), 1194-1196.
The author discusses the personal background behind the artist’s works.
Wilfred Niels, A. (2004). The illness of Vincent van Gogh. Journal of the History of Neurosciences, 13(1), 22-43.
The author analyzes the historical data to conclude about the artist’s mental illness.