Van Gogh or Warhol

Would you rather be Van Gogh or Warhol?

About a year ago, my shrink said something flattering about my creativity, and said something like, “But you could very well be like another Van Gogh.” I said back, “F– that. I don’t want to be Van Gogh, who died penniless and without any recognition. I want to be Warhol and live to see it all go down.”

He (my shrink) said that it could easily be argued that Van Gogh had a deeper impact on art and society than Warhol, or that his art was more pure (I forget the conversation’s exact point). What I took away was the clarity of the realization that I was much more of the mold of Warhol than Van Gogh. What about you?

Are You Deep in the Art or Are You Producing?

Warhol was a creator, but he was much more of a producer and a community creator and a creature of experimenting with reaction from his audience. He came from the magazine world, from advertising, and then spun off into this crazy vortex of creation and connecting and producing, producing, producing.

Van Gogh wasn’t a slouch. He made over 2,100 different pieces of art, including almost a thousand oil paintings. Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t just hanging out doing nothing. But mental and other illnesses and a completely different personality put Van Gogh on a completely different path, with far less interest paid to commercial success, and almost none to community.

Neither path is right or wrong. They’re just different. In understanding your own business, your own creativity, your own gears for driving, however, it’s exceptionally important to understand your drive, your goal, your desires, and where you want this all to head. In a universe where we tend to follow a lot of other people’s maps, this can be a recipe for some terrible dead ends, some roadblocks, and general frustration with the path at hand.

The Purists and The Word “True” or “Real.”

I have always loathed (and always will) the words “true” and “real,” as they are often used by people who believe that they have the market cornered on the way to succeed in something. “No real marketer advocates email marketing.” I read that about myself somewhere. It was pretty funny, actually, but hey.

Remember that people who see something as “pure” or “true” or “real” are essentially working from a single perspective.

There are Many Different Roads, But Be Sure Where You Want to Go

I watched the documentary, Dig! (affiliate link), about the Brian Jonestown Massacre, where it’s this contrast between Anton Newcombe of the BJM and Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols. Anton is portrayed as the absolutely self-destructive and frayed genius/crazy type, and Courtney is creatively envious, but helming his own band towards a much larger success. At the same time you see Anton descend into self-destruction and yet create more and more musically pure material, you see Courtney and his band hitting larger stages, moving huge festivals with his songs, and yet looking sideways at what he can’t reproduce.

Van Gogh or Warhol?

In your own business, in your own world, are you thinking more about the depth of your art or are you producing? Or are you neither? Who do you see yourself following for a path? Where is your direction? What keeps you pointed towards it and what makes you feel brave (or not)? runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Chris,

    You can come from a low or high energy place in your creative endeavors.

    One thing to be wildly prolific but another thing if you goal is to create a ton of stuff to help people. The difference is in your intent.

    I formerly aimed to write 6 blog posts a day to top search engines for my niche. Then, I moved away from the numbers game, and began writing fewer blog posts to help individuals. It became easier to grow a community because producing a bit less, I created more. See what I’m saying?

    I also reached out more, listened more, opened up channels, and I feel this was a key point in my growth as an entrepreneur. I was less concerned with expressing MYSELF and more focused on creating to help others. Big shift.

    As always, thanks for sharing the keen read Chris!


    • Chris Brogan

      I definitely see what you’re saying. Quite an eye opener. Thanks for sharing your take.

  • Mary Ulrich

    At first it was shocking that you didn’t want to be another Van Gogh.

    But, you’re absolutely right Chris, if you want to be able to feed your kids and not cut off your ear in crazyness, then it is better to be a businessman and make everyday businesses see the beauty in what they do. Warhol helped the Campbell brand become more than just a soup.

    Without his friends, Van Gogh’s work could have been pitched in the garbage. Warhol was purposeful in making his art his living, it wasn’t just therapy.

    Of course, as a Cincinnati Reds fan, I still think Warhol should have painted Pete Rose left handed, but hey….

    BTW: I’m submitting “Van Gogh or Warhol” as an example of a good title for my “Damn Fine Words” writing class. The title really tells what the article is about and has multiple layers of meaning for people interested in business. Good job.

    • Chris Brogan

      You’re very kind, Mary. I hope the class hates it and finds an even BETTER line. : ) 

  • Anjali Amit

    I like the inclusiveness of your writing. LIfe is not  either-or and you do not have to make it so.Art or craft?  Van Gogh or Warhol? Both earned respect, one in his lifetime, the other after.

    • Chris Brogan

      There are few folks who take two paths at the same time. Know many who went far? 

  • LaMaine

    We are all born as a blank canvas.  And everyone we meet, and everyone we share our lives with make marks upon our surface.  So it is that we grow.  One day we take up the brush and finish creating our lives through family, friendships and business.  It is up to us to determine if we will be just another painting  … or a Masterpiece.

    • Chris Brogan

      Well sure!

  • Commoncents

     The two artists you mention, were pretty weird.  I think their artwork came from drug induced horrors. Warhols can of soup (et al) sold because of Warhol.  Not the art.  Likewise Van Gogh and his feverish brush strokes.  Someone in the art world found a way to immortalize him and sell his self image beginning  with the ear thing.  Good God!!  These weren’t talented successful men, both were self-absorbed losers.  Otherwise……..have you actually looked closely at each of their works? Weird doesn’t necessarily mean talented. If you research, much of music we call art, came from drugs also. Most drugged artists came to nasty ends.  Fashion youself or your business after someone if you must,  but please, pick a shrink who doesn’t put you in the same class as VanGogh.

    • Chris Brogan

      Maybe self-absorbed losers are an art category. : ) 

  • Courtney

    This is interesting. I think I’m coming out of a Van Gogh phase and into Warhol. I had to really explore the depths of what I was about before I could turn it around into something profitable. Also, I’m done with the existential angst. Let me be honest and useful in this life, in the present moment, you know?

  • Daniel

    If you’re interested in more of a back story about Warhol from the point of view of psychology, I’d highly recommend Robert Greene’s Art of Seduction. 

    • Chris Brogan

      A swell book that I haven’t read in a few years. Will have to dig it out. : ) 

  • janet wallace

    I don’t live in an either/or world, or I try not to. I’ll say Picasso, who was both.

    Take a stand for the “and.”

    • Chris Brogan

      What are you? Coke Zero? : ) 

      • janet wallace

        booooo. ;)

  • Andy Strote

    If you’re using the Warhol / Van Gogh analogy, you should also decide whether you want to be a solo practitioner (complete DIY), or operate a Factory with others to do much of your work (you’re the conductor of the band). A lone ranger or a gang? What works for you?

  • Robin Dickinson


    Thank you, Chris. My initial thought is that, as an emerging artist I’m aiming to be a *Van Warhol* and cherry pick the best of both.   I love Warhol’s commercial smarts and Van Gogh’s core-inspired creativity.

    Best to you,


    • Shaun – Millionaire Mentors

      I would say something along those lines  too. 

  • Natasha Wescoat

    Being an artist myself, I’ve a little knowledge of their life and history as well as approach to art. :)

    And I’ll tell you….I’ve always considered myself more of a Warhol. 

    Though I inherently admire and respect the Van Goghs so much more, because he displayed an incredible visual skill, I aspire to THINK like Warhol.  Sans the hallucinogens and foil wrapped loft. ;P

    Warhol had a great talent in the arts, but it was his manipulation and visual presentation was the art itself. A lot of people are still fooled by that and I think it’s incredible. 

    Having to wear a wig and feign self delusional intellectualism has never been my angle but it was deeper than playing a game with a scene. Without making some noise, even the most incredible, talented, skilled, hard working people may be passed by. Having a boldness, risk-taking, almost foolishness to push it out there.You can let your “work” speak for itself, absolutely. And I’ve seen that work out for many. They didn’t have to tweet their business, blog about their creations or videoblog their every move. They created a body of work that made men and women fall to their knees. That drew a crowd like nothing anyone’s seen. And built rabid fans and followers. And people attempt to imitate THAT. But can’t. 

    So, in conclusion: A Warhol is a mastermind of people. Playing out a psych-drama. In itself, an art.  A Van Gogh creates something that speaks for itself.

    But Van Gogh probably would’ve lived to see his immaculate genius thrive if he had the savvy of one who could sell a freaking Campbells Can. I’d like to be both. I know it’s a bit far fetched but I’ll try.

  • Meredith Laskow

    I’m an artist who would love to find a bazillion $ in unmarked bills so I can live my life in 24/7  creativity — but I’m also a practical person with bills to pay.

    Forty years ago, I made the decision to do what I love, even though the hours are draconian and the pay is abysmal.  I have never regretted that decision. 

    I made compromises — nothing bad enough to make me squirm — but I’m more commercial than I’d like to be.  Still, there are lines which I won’t cross.  Still again, my customers always mention my creativity, so the compromises may be more in my own perception than in the public’s.  I also digest sizable chunks of social marketing (while kicking and screaming) to survive in this economic climate.

    Innately, I’m more like Van Gogh (albeit completely sane.)  Creativity leads to more creativity.  Ideas are like sparks off a perpetual pinwheel.

    In the real world where bills are due, I walk a fine line between my heart and my pocketbook.  I’ll die with 50,000 usused ideas in my head because I never had the time to realize them — and I’ll also die pretty damn close to poverty.


    To respond to a previous comment here — I consider myself pretty creative in a large swath of media, and I don’t smoke, drink, drop, shoot blahblahblah.  Most of my creative friends are the same.  Drugs are a crutch for people who are afraid to fly.

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  • Bill DeMarco

    VAN WARHOL!  Love it… great piece Chris… will definitely use the frame work. 

  • Dave Gray

    I definitely identify more with Van Gogh than with Warhol. I subscribe to a notion I first heard from Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss.” for me, that means diving deeply into the creative work. Sometimes that’s social, sometimes it’s solitary and contemplative. I enjoy social activity that’s personal, creative and meaningful. But I am deeply refreshed and rejuvenated by solitary work and reflection.

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  • Evie Carter

    Love this post. My immediate thought was Warhol – he had better drugs and cooler friends. But I totally get what you are saying about artist verses producer.