People romanticize Vincent Van Gogh as an archetypal "starving artist," a genius who suffered from poverty and anonymity, only to secure a seat in the Western canon after his death. It's a touching story, one invoked by countless artists who think they're not receiving the level of recognition they deserve.
His work is familiar to us now, and it's easy to forget that he wasn't producing popular, "mainstream" faire. He was an avant garde artist, a man who rejected convention and orthodoxy. His marginalization in his lifetime wasn't accidental; he knew he was taking risks; he knew he was doing something new and innovative; and he knew people wouldn't embrace it. (He hoped some people would: those who knew and understood art, but he didn't seem to delude himself into thinking that he was producing institutional art, canvases the majority of the people would adore.)
His willingness to sacrifice everything by pursuing a kind of art that flew in the face of convention, his avant garde approach to painting, his devotion to his vision kept him destitute and alone. He knew he was doing things differently—and he continued to do it; he didn't change styles or abandon his vision in pursuit of fame and fortune; he remained marginalized, fueled by hope, yet he persisted. He did things differently. He suffered, at least in part, because he refused to conform. He refused to follow convention. He refused to do what everyone else was doing. And, to me, that makes his story more powerful.