One of the few universally desired qualities is beauty. Beauty requires no skill or knowledge to appreciate, yet provides a most lively pleasure. In order to rank the aesthetic level of an object, one must create a concrete definition of beauty. Beauty is a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense. The manifestation of life in art is one of the most sublimely beautiful things that I have ever encountered. C.S. Lewis described art’s worth when he wrote, “Art has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.” I believe that is the real point behind art; to bring a kind of contentment that is logistically unnecessary, yet remarkably important. My favorite piece of art is The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Millions have witnessed this masterpiece and have marveled at its simple beauty. This work of art was painted from memory in the daytime by the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh, who admitted himself into the insane asylum, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 13 months before killed himself. This magnum opus of his is of the view from his window overlooking a small town being dominated by a clear, starry, night sky. The moon gazes from its lofty overlook while the people below quietly slumber. The stars, consumed in the glow of their own light, swirl boastfully at each other. Van Gogh seems to be contrasting life and death with these dazzling celestial orbs and the dark, gloomy town. His fluid staccato style impresses a seemingly oxymoronic mixture of emotion. This serene tension leaves the audience feeling both tranquil and energized. Before this painting this illustrious work, Van Gogh wrote this to his brother, “The imagination is certainly a faculty which we must develop and it alone can bring us to creation of a more exalting and consoling nature ... A star-spangled sky, for instance, that's a thing I would like to try to do ... But how can I manage unless I make up my mind to work ... from imagination?” The excitement taking place in the sky, contrasted with the dullness of the town may be a symbol of the duality of the painter’s mind; the electric sky representing the exciting highs and the dormant town representing the sorrowful lows. The cypress tree, often found in cemeteries, may be a representation of his looming thoughts on suicide and in a way, foreshadow his upcoming death. Another possible idea that Van Gogh is trying to communicate is the fact that in the painting, the cypress connects the earth and heavens, showing the short journey between life and afterlife. Van Gogh’s substantial brush strokes cake paint onto the canvas in haphazard swirls like icing. However, there is a uniform technique that shows the artist’s professionalism. His paintings are not accidents of the brush. There are very few straight lines in Starry Night. Curves and waves dominate the canvas in swirling color. While one would assume that a landscape painting of a small sleepy town at night would be a very peacefully ordinary painting to view, Starry Night is quite the opposite. Its overall impression is that of a busily closed form with relatively limited space. The texture of Starry Night is incredibly thick. Vincent Van Gogh swirled paint onto the canvas with mounds of excess, especially on the stars and moon. While the painting is of a night scene, the Van Gogh paints the lighting so that the town and sky are clearly visible. The impasto of the painting is evident by the mass accumulation of paint on the canvas. As seen in almost all of Van Gogh’s works, the brush strokes and at times, paint knife strokes are clearly seen. And by this, Starry Night’s painterly value is defined. Many have found symbolic meaning in the darkness and light of this painting. That even in the night, vibrant, overwhelming light can be found defeating the darkness. And the homely village with its warm lights and modest, close houses bring a conscious comfort and the viewer can feel the silence of the town. Starry Night is a slightly abstract piece. Vincent Van Gogh is categorized as an impressionist painter and this painting certainly reenforces that label. The vibrant colors, however, are not common in impressionist paintings. Other impressionist painters like Claude Monet use duller colors in their paintings.
Content Questions: What is the artist’s purpose or role in the creation of the work? What are they trying to communicate? What sort of content is the artist trying to express (Feelings, Ideas etc?)
Formal Questions: Explain how this content is reinforced by its form and style, both its subject matter and appearance. What is the style or genre? Orient the painting according to the modes of representation and describe how the artist uses the Visual Elements and the Principals of Design to arrive at a finished and unified work of art.
Socio-Cultural Analysis: How does the historical period play a role in the creation of the work and style? The culture? What aspects or events of the artist’s personal history shape the work?