His artistic career was extremely short, lasting only the 10 years from 1880 to 1890. During the first four years of this period, while acquiring technical proficiency, he confined himself almost entirely to drawings and watercolours. First, he went to study drawing at the Brussels Academy; in 1881 he moved to his father’s parsonage at Etten, Netherlands, and began to work from nature.
In April 2013, Van Dyke revealed that for seven years he had been experiencing symptoms of a neurological disorder, in which he felt a pounding in his head whenever he lay down; but despite his undergoing tests, no diagnosis had been made. He had to cancel scheduled appearances due to fatigue from lack of sleep because of the medical condition. In May 2013, he tweeted that it seemed his titanium dental implants may be responsible.
During the last six or seven months of the year 1889, he has also created at least fifteen paintings of olive trees, a subject which he considered as demanding and compelling. Among these works are Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background (1889), about which in a letter to his brother Van Gogh wrote, "At last I have a landscape with olives".While in Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh spent time outside the asylum, where he painted trees in the olive groves. In these works natural life is rendered as gnarled and arthritic as if a personification of the natural world, which are, according to Hughes, filled with "a continuous field of energy of which nature is a manifestation".
On January 27, 2013, at the age of 87, Van Dyke received the 2013 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. During his acceptance speech, Van Dyke reminisced about his work over the years as an entertainer and stated that his career has "been full of surprises and a lot of fun." He also praised actors working in the industry today, calling them "the greatest generation of actors" and telling them, "You've all lifted the art to another place now." He continued with a rhetorical question for his Hollywood colleagues: "Aren't we lucky to have found a line of work that doesn't require growing up? I love that." Van Dyke is the 49th recipient of the SAG Life Achievement Award, following 2012 honoree Mary Tyler Moore.