Van Gogh’s Nightsong

Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh. 1889. Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

 There have been thousands of interpretations of Van Gogh’s most famous painting. Some find comfort in reduction. Reduced to a mere figment of his infected brain, reduced to a painting of scenery outside his asylum in Saint Remy, reduced to something your kid sister could do. Reduced.

Thing is, the most important thing, this is a painting of a world without end, a million worlds without beginning or end that fight against reduction to the death. Or, if there is a beginning, it is the first of all firsts, the Big Bang and the remnants of that explosion as they appeared to one lone genius of the heart, billions of years later.

Van Gogh looked out of his window in Saint Remy, the “real” frame and the one of metaphor, memory and symbol. Nothing could contain his vision, nothing could bring the Netherlands and France wholly together, not the canvas, the colors, the brush work or his eyes. Though he must have tried aggressively, passionately to pin it all down, never satisfied with the final results . . .

* * * * *

Pascal, in his immortal Pensees said:

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.

And Spinoza said, as if answering Pascal, bucking him up for a moment:

And such things as affect the ear are called noises, and form discord or harmony, the last of which has delighted men to madness, so that they have believed that harmony delights God. Nor have there been wanting philosophers who assert that the movements of the heavenly spheres compose harmony.

And Galileo said, as if answering both of them:

The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do.

* * * * *

A constant problem for artists: Projecting an expansive vision of things on a very small plane, billions of metaphorical miles away from the heart of that vision, consumed by it, engulfed by it, separated from it forever. The greatest art and artists show us what lies beyond that frame. Push us to keep going beyond ourselves and whatever is immediately in front of us.

The Swirls. I love the swirls. I paint those swirls. I made them my own. Oceans unleashed are the skies, before and after.


Van Gogh’s Nightsong
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