This week's Economist reports that Thames and Hudson has published the 819 surviving letters of Vincent van Gogh. I have a dog-eared 1996 Penguin Classics edition of his selected letters and love to read them for his precise descriptions, his insights, his humor, and the illustrations. Here are a few lines from a June 18, 1888 letter from van Gogh to his friend Emile Bernard:
" . . . the most beautiful paintings are those which you dream about when you lie in bed smoking a pipe, but which you never paint.
Yet you have to make a start, no matter how incompetent you feel in the face of inexpressible perfection, of the overwhelming beauty of nature."
And later in the same letter, this bit of advice: "Painting and fucking a lot don't go together. It softens the brain. Which is a bloody nuisance."
The good news is that you don't have to shell out $600 for the six volumes. They're all accessible, free, at www.vangoghletters.org.