Van Gogh was a dog

DRAFT a later version will be contributed to Wikipedia

No pain no gain sketch 1 / Ink on paper

“No Pain, No Gain” is much more than a personal exercise motto. In this drawing I am trying to expose this motto as a social demand rather than a purely internal process.

Old Man in Sorrow / Van Gogh

This notion in which an individual is expected to suffer in order to gain profit (monitary, physical, social, professional…) is really at the heart of capitalism. In the celebration of competitive individualism you are expected to believe “it’s all up to you” and maybe “you are just not trying hard enough”.

Van-Gogh’s life story established the myth of the “suffering artist” in popular culture. Today this notion is maintained in art and beyond it. We can follow the individual pain and gain broadcasted LIVE from the boxing arena, from the reality shows, and so on…

I started the illustration with an image of gladiator battles in mind but I decided to go with dog fights instead. When men are fighting they assume the role of the competitive hero, believing they stand to gain something (life, glory…). However, in the savage phenomenon of dog fights the pain and the gain are separated. While the dogs are shredding each other to pieces, the spectators are the ones gaining entertainment and money.

No pain no gain sketch 2 / Ink on paper

No pain no gain (detail) / Ink on paper

No pain, no gain (or "No gain without pain") is an exercise motto that promises greater value rewards for the price of hard and even painful work. Under this conception competitive professionals such as athletes and artists are required to endure pain and pressure to achieve professional excellence


NO PAINS, NO GAINS. If little labour, little are our gains: Man's fortunes are according to his pains. – Hesperides 752.[3],_no_gain
Jan 7th, 2011

Now Discuss:


  1. D Jan 8th, 11

    Can an athlete achieve excellence without pain? I very much doubt it.
    Maybe the problem is how we define pain? Perhaps the problem is with the futile notion of avoiding pain?

    I suppose mahayana buddhist would agree with the statement. Without the experience of suffering there can be no true enlightment.

    At any rate, devolving this sentence to a statement on capitalism is too narrow. Free culture will not change the nature of suffering.

    By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.

    in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.

  2. galia Jan 12th, 11

    Thanks Doron. I love the way you talk about the concept of pain. Like you, I also believe pain is something we should spend time in, contain it and not resist it (As you beautifully quoted from Buddhism and the bible).
    In this post we wanted to focus on a more specific concept of pain, that is more common in a capitalist environment. One that is admiring and at the same time taking advantage of the “suffering artist”. We would argue that there is a difference between learning to live with pain and nourishing it for bad uses.

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