Various arts more so the drawings and paintings are used to communicate a certain message to a particular audience. In most cases, artists use these works to express an intrinsic opinion or feeling on a particular issue. That is by putting up a drawing that leaves the audience brainstorming the intended message and then act in a certain way. However, the intended meaning of any drawing may be interpreted differently depending on the audience’s point of view. Nevertheless, a satisfactory explanation is given out to support an interpretation of a particular drawing. This reality is evident with Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. An evaluative analysis of various interpretations of the aforementioned work reveals internal religious conflict as the main motivation of Van Gogh to draw the painting.
Firstly, Van Gogh’s the Starry Night is an oil on canvas art painted in the middle of 1889. During this time, Van Gogh is recorded to be in a hospital room/asylum. This work was Van Gogh’s view from the east-facing window with an additional idealized village. Historically, the time of this work found Van Gogh in the Saint-Paul-De-Mausoleum Lunatic Asylum after suffering in his left ear. The hospital allowed this artist to occupy both the second floor as his hospital ward as well as ground-floor which he used as his studio. As Naifer and Smith (2011) maintain, Van Gogh’s stay in this hospital saw him doing his best paintings throughout his career journey. Vincent was continually inspired even though he was still ailing during this stay in the asylum. Later on, the work attracted a lot of interest from various artists and professionals who not only criticized the work but also gave out their understanding of the work.
Briefly, the Starry Night involved various paintings that depicted different times of day under various conditions of the weather. Van Gogh included sunrise, moonrise, windy days, sunshine-filled days, and one day of rain amongst others. The paintings included a view of a mountainous landscape. This was located just behind Saint-Remy Asylum. As revealed by Hulsker (1986), Van Gogh had been working for the painting during daytimes. The second painting is a green field, together with Wheatfield, located just next to the mountain. The other painting is a small quite village seen directly from the window where Van Gogh lied. Next to the streets is a big cypress tree. Lastly, a heavy cloudy sky with stars and moon during the night complimented the drawing. All these drawings were joined together to make a catchy view of the Starry Night.
Various interpretations have been given out by different people who cite different motivations of Van Gogh towards this work. In his letters, Van Gogh revealed that this painting came as a result of abstraction. As De Leeuw (1996) reveals, Van Gogh led himself into an imagination on the stars of heaven. His seek for a style of the drawing involved expressionistic swirls of stars and heavenly bodies. On the same point, the drawing was an expression of sentimental things perceived in his mind during the unconscious study. That implies that the drawing was motivated by the unrealistic point of view. In his response to Van Gogh’s letter, Theo maintained that the drawing took away the real sentiment of the surrounding (Naifer & Smith, 2011). Therefore, one can certainly distance this work from the possible environmental sources of motivation towards such drawing.
Another interpretation of Van Gogh’s the Starry Night is the internal discouragement of afterlife considering his ailing state. This is a weak conviction of another life after his death. According to Soth (1986), Van Gogh had maintained that his ability to draw stars as small dots was motivated by his view of heaven as another earth. His argument that one takes death to reach the star implies that one’s move to another world does not land them into a better world. The quote ‘hope is in the stars (Naifer & Smith, 2011, p. 649)’ revealed his conviction on the certainty of what he was seeing by that time. Therefore, his ailing state was not to discourage him as he lived hoping to get well and have hope for better coming days. He was to revive his hope of coming out of the hospital.
Sven Loevgren, a renowned art historian claimed the Starry Night to have been generated ‘in a state of agitation’ (Loevgren, 1971). The various violently expressed forms and paintings reveal an artist who is mentally agitated. According to Loevgren (1971), Van Gogh may have been inclined to longing for an unseen world or beyond horizon due to his current suffering. The painting revealed a total absorption into cosmos, a state where one only desires the eternity. More than that, this work was a totally apocalyptic vision similar to the one recorded in the Old Testament. The cypresses tree included in the drawing was said to have been closely linked to death during the Old Testament. Therefore, there existed a close admiration of eternity and the implication of the drawing.
A similar interpretation to that of loevgren was also given by Lauren Soth. Soth (1986) claims that Van Gogh was in a deep disguise religiously. This artist must have been drowned into a deep religious feeling that comes with a state of disguise or frustration. According to Soth, the artist’s use of Prussian blue as well as citron yellow, colors that had been used to by Van Gogh’s top artist Eugene Delacrois, reveals a religious admiration of Christ. In addition, the artist had included a crescent moon instead of a sun. That symbolically meant that Van Gogh was in need of consolation during dark moments or sufferings. More importantly, use of a full crescent moon instead of a gibbous moon as he first intended revealed the artist’s great need for consolation.
Striving has also been interpreted from the painting the Starry Night. According to Boime (1984), various items in the picture revealed a sense of internal striving for the infinite. For example, the cypress tree has an implication of natural obelisks for the whole painting. Also, the tree connected the earth and heavens. Thus, Van Gogh must have been going through an internal struggle through unorthodoxly. Biome supported Loevgren claims regarding the painting by echoing the inclusion of the cypress tree as a sign of death. That, therefore, means that Van Gogh had been striving to achieve eternity. In addition, striving for an appealing style as demonstrated by a mixed arrangement of forms such as olives with white clouds, and moonrise with night effect could reflect Van Gogh’s state of struggle. A lot of exaggerations revealed a feeling of dissatisfaction with not only his work but also his stay in an asylum.
Lastly, the same work has been interpreted as a resultant of Van Gogh’s mental illness. Naifer and Smith (2011) maintain that the Starry Night was not far from a hallucinatory vision. According to these two authors, the artist had been suffering from latent epilepsy, a mental disorder that causes collapsing of the mind. Consequently, one develops bizarre behaviors such as excess imagination. By claiming that he produced ‘a night sky unlike any other (Naifer and Smith 2011, p. 762), Van Gogh must have fallen into the taste of mental seizure. Therefore, the work that came out of his state was merely hallucinatory and unthought-of.
Various interpretations of the Starry Night by Van Gogh have linked the paintings with psychological religious struggles. As evaluated throughout the paper, various explanations drawn from the painting imply a sort of mental imbalance with the artist. According to Van Gogh, the work was motivated by a desire to reach the stars of heaven or eternity. Various expressionistic swirls of stars and heavenly bodies were motivated by unconscious abstraction. Also, internal discouragement of afterlife considering his ailing state may also have motivated the artist. His mental discouragement had been caused by continued suffering. In addition, other interested parties such as Sven Loevgren links agitation as the main reason behind the paintings. A similar reason given is a state of deep disguise. Lastly, Van Gogh is believed to have been striving with an internal objective that drove him to draw the paintings. All these interpretations imply a probable internal religious conflict that was going through the same artist.
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