Friday, February 8, 2013

Van Gogh's Starry Night - Inspired by poet Walt Whitman + other painters & then inspiring others including songwriters...





Don McClean's song Vincent on Love & Suicide & Starry Night:

Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue & grey,
Look out on a summer's day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees & the daffodils,
Catch the breeze & the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
And how you suffered for your sanity,
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now...

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze, Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning fields of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
And how you suffered for your sanity,
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now...

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And then when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless heads on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world & can't forget.
Like the strangers that you've met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed & broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
And how you suffered for your sanity,
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will...

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch painter, 1853–1890) Starry Night 1889

The painting Starry Night was an expression of Van Gogh’s obsession with death inspired by the poetry of Walt Whitman & the painterly techniques of other artists. Van Gogh equated cypresses, such as the dominating tree in this painting, with Egyptian obelisks, calling them “as beautiful of line and proportion as an Egyptian obelisk.” Obelisks were used to commemorate the passing of important personages in ancient Egypt, and the tradition of using the obelisk as a memorial carried into Europe. Van Gogh wrote of the cypresses that they were “always occupying my thoughts.”

Van Gogh was captivated with the night, as he wrote to his brother Theo in 1888, "It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day....The problem of painting night scenes and effects on the spot and actually by night interests me enormously."

In the same year, van Gogh wrote to his sister Wil, as he was painting his first starry night canvas. He was inspired, he said, by imagery in the poems by Walt Whitman he was reading, "He sees...under the great starlit vault of heaven a something which after all one can only call God—and eternity in its place above the world."

Van Gogh, obsessed with both stars & death, wrote to his brother, "Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star."

And yet, van Gogh considered his Starry Night a failed attempt at painterly abstraction. He wrote to Emile Bernard, "I have been slaving away on nature the whole year, hardly thinking of impressionism or of this, that and the other. And yet, once again I let myself go reaching for stars that are too big—a new failure—and I have had enough of it." Although he craved the utmost technical skill, he confessed to an artist friend that he aimed to paint with such "expressive force" that people would say, "I have no technique."

Just as van Gogh was inspired by the poems of Walt Whitman, several writers have written lyrics & poems inspired by the painting Starry Night. Ekphrasis is a type of writing that comments upon another art form, for instance a poem about a photograph or a novel about a film. Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is an example of this type of writing, since the entire poem concerns the appearance & meaning of an ancient piece of pottery.

And so, ekphrasis is a rhetorical device in which one medium of art relates to another medium by defining & describing its essence & form. A descriptive work of prose, poetry, film, or even a photograph may highlight, through its rhetorical vividness, what is happening in a particular piece of visual art. This may enhance the original art and also take on a life of its own through brilliant description.


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