Sunday, June 15, 2014

Post-Impressionism (pt. 14)

Starry Night, probably the artist's most famous painting, carries reminiscences of the earlier work of the Wheat Field and Cypress.  Cypress trees stand in the nearest foreground and shoot up with wavy energy into the night sky above, drawing our eye there.  The sleepy town below is painted just so: sleepy, hazy, unclear in daubed, wandering brushstrokes.  Colors blend, and buildings mesh together with trees and bushes.  Amidst it all, a church is the only clearly delineated object that stands tall, like the cypresses to the left.  Both point our eyes upward to the night sky, as if to encompass the entities of nature and the establishments of humanity into common unity under the showy brilliance of the otherworldly expanse of the heavens.  But the subject is, quite simply, a starlit night.  This subject occupies a greater two-thirds' space on the canvas and is infused, through the artist's unique brushwork and stylistic technique, with the most light and energy of the entire painting.  The stars do not just glow; they radiate.  Each is pictured as a small orb with its own surrounding halo of light, a visible emanation of the star's brilliance in the eyes of the viewer.  In some cases, given their added radius of light, the image of a star even dwarfs the buildings in the town by comparison in size.  The moon is enormous.  Clouds or mist pass along in wavy energy, like the billowy clouds in the artist's earlier landscape painting of the Wheat Field and Cypress; but here, too, the sky itself is imbued with an aspect of organic restlessness.  With short bursts of paint, the artist has created a kind of stream (or gushing river) of linear motion which, the more we look at it, appears to have no direct or succinct path of movement.  (This leads us to conclude the artist is not painting wind, or else you'd expect everything to move in one direction).  Chaotically overflowing with color and vivacity, the sky itself is given new qualities by the artist.  It's practically a living thing.
The beauty of a starry night sky inspires one's imagination and emotions, and these are the qualities we see in Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night.  One of the ideas most commonly associated with this painting is its liberation of the artist's potential for creativity.  Free to imagine the world in any fashion he chooses, Van Gogh approaches subject matter not just stylistically or expressively but wholly personally.  This is his view of the night sky, his interpretation, his reaction.  He has not painted a realistic vision of what the scene would actually look like in real life; he's painted his emotional response, his metaphysical connection and interaction with the subject matter.  The sky is alive; the stars are great, big, luminous bodies, and the air is full of color and vibrancy.  A normal night sky would be much more static and restrained, but that is too tame for Van Gogh.  He has instead taken from outside, tangible (or, at least, visible) subject matter and added his own creative vision of the scene.  Like Goya, he's painting from imagination; but also, he is painting from feeling.  Unsatisfied with the undemonstrative simplicity of a normal night sky, he can use the medium of art to create a more vibrant landscape that better relates to one's appreciation of it: full of overwhelming emotion.  Art, after all, allows for the capability of artistically adding to nature, anthropomorphizing the abstract, and inventing a world entirely one's own.  Actually, in art, just about anything is possible; and this is the creative freedom Van Gogh assumes and exudes here.

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