Vincent Van Gogh and the Four Seasons

Today I went to an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria called Van Gogh and the four seasons. Tickets were moderately priced, the queue took over an hour, the audio guide was useless and it was incredibly crowded. Despite it all it has been the best experience I’ve ever had in an art gallery.

I met a girl in the queue who I thought was Portuguese but she was from Geelong. I saw her eyes light up looking at me but together I just felt we were jaded. We parted ways. A man cut in right near the front of the line but did it so smoothly I must not have felt to say anything. I regret that.

I was shocked that the paintings were just there, unprotected. I’m very grateful for that fact though. It felt intimate. They did seem utterly sublime. Well preserved too. I thought they were brooding but that was just the winter section. They all have a certain headiness to them though, despite being quite tame by today’s standards. Subtlety. Van Gogh’s soul. It takes a heady individual to take Impressionism and leap forward into something else, stroke by stroke.

Despite the crowded vibe the exhibition just got better and better. I looked at every painting. Slower than average but not super slow. It seemed the energy in the crowd improved with every successive painting. Never thought I’d see the day. True progress and the mandate of the arts. Everyone witnessing the same sublimity. Many trying to describe it properly. It’s a funny thing like that, visual art, the way it doesn’t cohere well with language in our soul. Or maybe it does for some people I don’t know.

It was too crowded for me to deeply understand the four seasons theme beyond a mere grouping of the paintings. Nor was I able to grasp the apparent Japanese influence. That’s ok. I’m glad someone tried to put it in a meaningful context. However the artist’s life was much darker than “and the four seasons” suggests.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), like most great Europeans of the past was born into an upper middle class family. With severe mental health issues, he only started painting in 1881, at the age of 28. In the next decade or so he would produce a remarkable 2,100 works. Averaging one work between every one and two days. An archetypal study in Mastery.

He was closest with his younger brother, Theo. As someone with a younger brother, I feel a lot of empathy for the man. It makes me feel what his family life was like.

He was bedevilled by depression and psychotic episodes. Despite this he ate poorly and drank excessively. This no doubt contributed to him infamously severing his own ear. His work was rather unappreciated during his lifetime and he lived in poverty. He shot himself in the chest with a pistol at age 37; dying two days later in his brother’s arms. He epitomises the tortured but genius artist.

He is said to be of the post-impressionist movement. His work is characterised by bold colours and expressive brushwork. He began to be appreciated after his death, as his work profoundly influenced the modern movement. This list has him ranked as the second greatest painter of all time.

Elon Musk Biography


First and foremost this was the most inspiring book that I’ve ever read. I’m not sure what impact it will have on me over the long term but I imagine it’s a pretty profound one.

This book teaches that education into STEM fields (which seem so imposing to the layperson) can be acquired through self-study. Elon Musk basically taught himself code, how the banking system works and rocket science. These areas of knowledge directly led to his involvement in various successful businesses: Zip2, Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla, Solar-City, Hyper-loop.

I believe that trying to copy Elon exactly is a fool’s errand since we have fundamentally different temperaments, characters and values. However there is just so much a person can learn from his story and apply to their own lives.

Risk-taking is an attractive trait to have. Elon has this trait. It appears that he inherited it from his grandparents and parents. Their whole family seems to be adventurous, inventive and entrepreneurial. I often wish that I had more of this characteristic. Reckless abandon some might call it, it all depends on how you look at it.

It seems that to some extent you have to just accept risk in its pure form and depart from reason or intelligence. Although statistically it does seem intelligent to have a propensity for smart risks since it correlates with a richer life. Elon seems to viscerally crave risks beyond this moderated ideal and apparently it’s worked.

Can one train themselves in this “virtue”? Perhaps. I imagine it’s a teary road that requires a lot of resolve and focus to stay on. That would be a good topic for a book.

The lean model of entrepreneurship is pretty common knowledge nowadays. Basically it’s where you start a business with very little preparations lean and try to keep it afloat. You learn a ton as you go and amazing things can happen that would never happen if you hadn’t started at all. “Fail forward” is a common mantra for entrepreneurs of this ilk. It seems Elon Musk really took that to the extreme, applying it to industries that pretty much epitomised “high barriers to entry”. Banking, automotive, aeronautics, energy. Lean entrepreneurship is really one of the key lessons of this book, yet somewhat ironically demands not to be spoken of without action.

Another lesson of this book is the lesson of hard-work. Some people possess this quality in the extreme as Musk seems to. Type A personalities are who he would seek to hire. I do believe that hard-work can be cultivated as well if some sort of drive is there.

Elon would set goals impossibly high for himself and others and that would be an impetus to work harder than you usually would. They seemed to routinely achieve the impossible too. What is an impossibly high demand of you to work through in one day or one week? What is an impossibly high achievement for you in the long term? In many respects it starts in one’s own thinking – whether instinctive or consciously acquired. Thinking big is another quality that Elon epitomised, perhaps more than anyone else in history considering that he’s trying to colonise Mars. Employees, when interviewed often mentioned his abhorrence of limiting beliefs to be his strongest characteristic.

Elon had a challenging childhood and exceptional genes. He clearly wants his personal brand to be devoid of any self-design. The image is that he’s pure work-ethic, pure risk-taking, pure benevolent designs. Yet I believe that this enviable mix of qualities was partly picked up whilst reading and much of it was learned. Even still, the a passion for learning is an indivisible, authentic characteristic just as valid as any other. Also I do believe that he is standing on the shoulders of giants: clearly he has learned from many great capitalists, adventurers – and I would love to know what else.