“Painters understand nature, and love it, and teach us to see.”
-Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh is one of the worlds’ best-known painters. His paintings grace the walls of museums, posters hung in college dorm rooms, mugs, shirts, you name it. It’s hard, even if you aren’t an art lover, to not have seen at least one piece of his work before. Chances are, you are most familiar with this one:
But why do we love The Starry Night?
Perhaps second only to the Mona Lisa in notoriety, it’s popularity begs the question: “What’s so special about it?”
Are we entranced by the swirls of paint so beautifully depicting the night sky? Are we captived by the story of a tortured artist? Are we drawn to the bold colors and carefully balanced composition? Is it just the perfect bridge between abstraction and realism; not so real that we are bored, but not so abstract that we are left scratching our heads?
Well, it might be a little bit of all of these things.
As a self-proclaimed art lover, I really thought I knew all there was to know about Vincent van Gogh, and certainly would have spouted off some nonsense about what makes The Starry Night so popular had I been asked. So, when I saw the great video we are sharing with you from PBS Digital Studio’s YouTube channel The Art Assignment, I realized how little I actually knew. And how much more remarkable The Starry Night, and van Gogh’s career actually are.
So, let’s get into it… why should we look at this painting and see it as so inspiring?
What makes “great” art?
First, I had no idea that Vincent van Gogh’s career only lasted a decade! Think how much his work has influenced the world of art with such a short career!
I was also struck by the fact that I had never actually seen his early work before. Van Gogh is so well known for his fluid brush strokes and dappled use of color, it had never occurred to me that his early work would look so different from the works that have become iconic. An important reminder that it’s so easy to forget that “masters” in every field all come from humble beginnings.
Like so many “great” works, pinpointing why they become so famous is difficult. Works of art strike us all in different ways. There is no universal answer to why you or I look at something and feel awe, disgust, or reverence. That, though, is the beauty of art in any form, it is something that gives us a place to start a conversation, to learn more about history, places, or people. It gives us a way to feel and express emotions without words and without judgment, a freedom to connect with something bigger than ourselves.
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
Oh…one more thing!
In the video above, she mentioned how The Starry Night depicts something called “turbulent flow”. To explain that a little better here’s a really wonderful bonus video from TED-Ed that not only explains what it is but how and why the painting portrays it in such a stunning way!
Looking for a little more art?
Don’t you worry, we’ve got a bit of a collection going:
Just make sure you subscribe before you head off to explore!
- “Better Know: The Starry Night | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios.” YouTube, The Art Assignment, 18 Jan. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz908BHg55Y. ↩
- “The Unexpected Math behind Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ – Natalya St. Clair.” YouTube, TED-Ed, 30 Oct. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMerSm2ToFY. ↩