Today I decided to depart from the customary art promotion article, and speak about a painting that I have always admired (and I’m sure many of you do so as well). This painting is entitled Starry Night, and was created by Vincent Van Gogh during his stay at Saint-Rémy in 1889. The painting now resides at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, and can even be seen by anyone in striking detail using Google Art Project.
This masterpiece is one of the most recognized paintings in the world, even though Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime. Incidentally, it was not this one. Quite interestingly, it was painted completely from Van Gogh’s memory, in the daytime.
Why are people so attracted to this painting? Why can so many artists and other viewers relate to it? I think there are several reasons, so I will give a little analysis of the painting, then arrive at my own conclusions.
Brightly Lit Stars and Moon
The stars are represented by blobs of yellow and orange paint in the center, surrounded by white expressive strokes surrounding the stars. They are energetic and turbulent. It is apparent that he was not painting exactly what a star looked like, since we never see stars this big, or radiating so much light. It’s almost as though he imagined them as light-bulbs or lamps in the sky. The light of the stars is represented in much the same way as the lamps in Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Night Cafe (right).
The flowing forms (clouds) in the skyFlowing forms is something I have been attracted to and enjoyed drawing from early childhood, even before I saw this painting. The forms produce movement, and also draw the eye around the piece. To me, these remind me of clouds moving and swirling in the sky with the wind – or even northern lights. It is certainly not natural movement though, but also reminds me of patterns in ebbing and flowing water.
Van Gogh painted cypresses often, and can be seen in his paintings A Wheatfield With Cypresses, Road With Cypress and Star, and Cypresses. Cypresses are not native to my province of Newfoundland, though I have often seen them around residencies. It is obvious that Van Gogh really enjoyed painting these trees more than any other. One particular aspect of the trees that he used to his advantage is its distinct shape – tall and narrow, with a sharp point at the top. Because the shape is so recognizable, he could adjust the shape slightly with flowing organic lines, and still keep it recognized as a cypress. (This is something I have done in much of my work, though not to mimic Van Gogh of course) This is a photo of a real cypress on the right.
The town of Saint-RemyThe town looks much more peaceful than the surrounding composition. There is much less movement than the surrounding sky and stars. A church with a tall steeple is the central point of the town. Such an image brings back memories of my own of the small town where I spent my childhood.
One main thing I take from the painting is that things are not painted how they look, but how they are imagined. The forms, especially in the sky, appear almost dreamlike. Things flow from one form into another. I have used this idea for much of my own work. When I paint real world things, I like to paint then how I imagine them. I have seen some try to copy Van Gogh’s style and copy exactly the way he painted. To me, this is not how a real artist should work. If you want to paint like Van Gogh, the real way to do it is to paint things how YOU see them, not the way he saw them.
Of course, when it comes to painting, there are no set rules. In this post-modernist era, anything is possible. People can paint anything and label it art. I’m not saying its not art if someone says it is, but will it be remembered if it doesn’t say something about yourself, and others can relate to it? I truly believe that what sets great artists apart from the forgotten is how much of themselves they express in their art. Art should say something about who you are, your philosophies and beliefs, where you come from, and what you feel.
Many times feelings are expressed in brush strokes, as in Starry Night. Van Gogh was a master at expressing his feelings and letting the world know who he was through his artwork.
So, in answer to the earlier question, I think most people like this painting because it not only says a lot about Van Gogh and how he felt at the time, but it also has elements that almost anyone can relate to, whether it be the stars and the moon, the energy, flowing forms, or the small town.
What do you think? Has the painting Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, or the art of other masters of art, had an affect on your art and how you approach it?
I have long been a fan of Van Gogh many years before my formal art education. When I saw this painting in real life at MoMa everyone was milling about the painting in reverence I think.
When I ask myself what is it I love about Van Gogh I realize the visual imagination put into his painting was palpable . But for me it was his compassion toward others and passion for life itself that speaks to me in his paintings. I also greatly identified with his struggles in life with his temperament, troubles with alcohol and his relationship with his brother. All these contributed to the person Vincent Van Gogh was and the kind of art he created. His life long correspondence between his brother Theo and himself reveals who he is and what motivates his subject matter and how it is executed I believe. What really fascinates, gets me and brings an artist's work alive is the personality, life experience, art practice and process the have. Vincent for me, is an artist's artist. I wrote a blog post about Vincent and Theo if you are interested. Here's the link.
Thanks Catherine! Great post and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
I have always loved Vincent VanGogh's art. It appeals to me on a deep spiritual level. I can feel his pain and his hope for relief of it in his work. I love the saturated color and the broad brush strokes. I think his work is more powerful because it is not representational, it allows the viewer to place his/her self in his environment and compare it to their own situation and environment.ReplyDelete
I paint landscapes and abstracts in oil. Over the last 20 years, my paintings have evolved from almost photo-realism to almost surrealistic realism and my abstracts are pure saturated color and amorphic shapes, flowing from my mind in color.
The 'Starry night' is more a painting of a state of mind than anything else. Of course that goes for much of Vincent's work. The painting that speaks most poignantly to me is 'The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night'...ReplyDelete
It speaks, I think, to Vincent's (perceived) place in society. I often share his perception of place.
As for copying styles of the past, it's a place to start, to start learning. Everyone's work is influenced by what has gone on before. It's in the steps beyond that a personal style is born. I know that my work is influenced as much by Vincent as by Kandinsky, Marc. Klee, Mondrian, Jenkins...on and on. This would be why a solid education in art history would be very beneficial. To know where you're coming from would be a great help in mapping out where you're going to.