Apparently, he was severely depressed. He did get a painting out of the act - Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear. I am guessing the cutting of the ear and the self portrait did not help with the depression as two years later Van Gogh shot himself and died a few days later.
I have often been intrigued with the cutting off of the ear. Why the ear? Why not other body parts? The pinky toe? I know, there is the obvious self mutilation body part, but I refuse to go there. I was living under the impression a woman was involved and he sent the severed ear to her. Again the History.com helps clarify what actually happened:
Gauguin came to stay with him in Arles and the two men worked together for almost two months. However, tensions developed and on December 23, in a fit of dementia, Van Gogh threatened his friend with a knife before turning it on himself and mutilating his ear lobe. Afterward, he allegedly wrapped up the ear and gave it to a prostitute at a nearby brothel.
I liked the idea that he did this because of unrequited love. I always tried to figure out if he actually thought that might endear her to him. I am under the belief that sending a bloody severed body part to a woman is not the best strategy to melt her heart. But, what do I know? I am not an expert in these regards. Now, I see that Vince actually wrapped up the ear and gave it to a prostitute. Well this raises even more questions which I am even less qualified to answer. Did he know the prostitute? Did he really like her or did he give her the ear because she had provided services below his expectation? Why didn’t he paint her? This inquiring mind wants to know! I imagine when the lady got the wrapped ear and opened it, she probably said the late 19th Century French equivalent of WTF and tossed the whole thing in the trash.
I do not understand this kind of depression or this kind of self-mutilation. It is foreign to me. I belong more to the “Eat your way out of Depression” school of thought. This is a sister academy to “Binge Eat your way out of any Situation” school. The modern world, at least the American modern world, is geared to providing supplies to these schools. We have every variety of sweet, salty, fat, sweet and salty, salty and fat, sweet and fat, and, most certainly, sweet, salty, and fat processed food offerings that exist for this purpose: to forgot all our troubles through massive calorie intake. We have even invented television with 180+ channels of mind numbing programming to aid in this overall process.
I wonder how Vincent might of fared in today’s world? Would he just be a fat slob doing custom airbrushing of motorcycle parts. Maybe a tattoo artist. Perhaps he would be a heavily sedated website designer.
Vincent Van Gogh is the prototype tortured artist. The History.com piece said he only sold one painting in his life. Today corporations, museums, and really rich individuals pay millions for his work. His images can be found everywhere.
Many would be artists have embraced the tortured part, most lack grossly in the talent part.