A Bright Spot in van Gogh’s Starry Night

van gogh
Wikimedia Commons

Vincent van Gogh struggled with so many things—mental illness, addiction, (ahem) lady problems—but at least he may have enjoyed his work. I saw The Starry Night in person at the Yale University Art Gallery last weekend. I stood there staring at the thick swirls of paint that make up the sky above Saint-Remy with the shadowy green cypress tree in the foreground, and all I could think was how much fun that it must have been to paint that scene. A little bit soothing, a little bit hypnotic, but mostly just fun to do, dragging a brush through the slick paint and seeing it ooze and furl.

Sometimes the struggle to create art overshadows the sensory pleasure that goes along with sculpting, painting, performing or installing a work. We never really talk or ask about the enjoyable side of it. Probably because it makes a serious work seem not-so-serious, but imagining van Gogh getting just a tiny bit of pure pleasure or fun out of painting certainly makes his sad run of luck in life seem a little less so.

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, Saint-Rémy, June 1889. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, Aquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, 1941

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