On this day in 1901, paintings by the late Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh were shown at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris. The 71 paintings caused a sensation across the art world. Eleven years before, Van Gogh had committed suicide without any notion that his work was destined to win acclaim beyond his wildest dreams. Born in Zundert in The Netherlands in 1853, Van Gogh worked as a salesman in an art gallery, a language teacher, a bookseller, and an evangelist before settling on his true vocation as an artist. He studied drawing at the Brussels Academy and in 1881 went to The Netherlands to work from nature. In 1886, Van Gogh went to live with his brother, Theo, in Paris. There, he met the foremost French painters of the postimpressionist period, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro, and Georges Seurat. In 1888, Van Gogh, mentally exhausted, left Paris and took a house at Arles in southeastern France where he was joined by Gauguin. Shortly after, he suffered a bout of mental illness and was diagnosed with dementia.
It’s too bad Van Gogh didn’t recognize his own greatness. What made him great was not that he was a painter for the ages, but that he quit selling books, teaching school, and preaching. He found the one thing he was best at and poured himself into it. The result was one of the finest painters the world will ever produce. The Bible says to find the things God created you to do (I Corinthians 14) and get after it. You will never attain greatness by turning your weaknesses into strengths, but by making your strengths even better. So find your “thing,” and get after it. The world is waiting.