“The Starry Night”

Vincent van Gogh, “The Starry Night” 1889. Oil on canvas.

Next to the Mona Lisa this may just be the most famous painting in the world. I know I just did a van Gogh – but this one is worth the exploration I think. My students tell me all the time when I ask them what kind of art they like – “Well I love Starry Night!” But why? Because its pretty? Because its famous? Most of us are familiar with the sad story of van Gogh’s life, and in fact, this scene was painted during his voluntary stay at Saint Remy, a sanitarium in southern France. I think this is all about opposing forces. We have a separation between the heavens and the earth, therefore a distinction between divinity and humanity, dreams and reality. Quite appropriate for a man who lived in the spaces in-between. The steeple and the flame-like cypress tree mirror each other – it is theorized that here, on top of a hill, is where the towns cemetery would be, so their is the parallel of life and death even. But I think mostly it tells us how isolated van Gogh must have felt. You feel that the man who painted this relates more to the vast wildness of the universe than he ever could to the comparative quietness of earth. (Original post  to Instagram November 9, 2012.)

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