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Starry Night

This paper attempts to present a discussion of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, “Starry Night,” in terms of its style and technique and the impact that that style and technique subsequently exercised on modern artistic culture.  We will also make mention of the fact that Van Gogh’s late style, as exhibited in this painting, had not only a direct artistic impact in that other painters came to imitate it, but that it also exercised an indirect—what might be called ideological impact—in terms of its influence on the tone and ideals of twentieth century artistic movements.

Starry Night

“Starry Night” is a painting about intense human affect as directed towards the cosmos.  In that sense it is a reflection of Van Gogh’s strong religious feelings.  But the religious impulse shown in “Starry Night” was far, far removed from conventional theistic piety. The picture was painted at the asylum of Saint-Remy when, his life an utter shambles and his health deteriorating, Van Gogh was, as an author has noted, fighting off religious notions because he believed them to be unhealthy. This he could not entirely accomplish and “Starry Night” may be seen as an exemplar of that failure. The religion of “Starry Night” was unconventional, but it was religion.  An author has said, “he put into his painting of the sky the exaltation of his desire for union and release, but no theology, no allegories of the divine”.

Indeed, when we look at the iconography of this intensely spiritual painting, the only sign of conventional religion is the spire of a church and this is dwarfed, rendered visually insignificant, by the "profusion of writhing vertical trees—the monotony of uncontrolled emotion ” and the titanic events in the heavens.  Moreover, some, including an author have argued that certain aspects of the depiction of the spire reflected Van Gogh’s disillusionment with the Catholic Church, that the spire was “Van Gogh’s symbol of the empty and unenlightened preaching of the clergy .”  If this is accepted, then the painting contains an element of revolt against established religious authority. But the intensity of the feeling displayed and the focus, the heavens, can leave one in no doubt that the ethos of this painting is, in fact, religious in nature.

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