Starry Night: Van Gogh’s secret message

I do not fancy myself an art buff, I have taken some classes on the subject, but I do believe good art is as good for the soul as it is pleasing the eye.  I have studied here and there on different artists, I have watched many of the biographical films on their lives, and I believe that understanding who they are and when they lived is as profound as the works themselves.  I have always enjoyed the drip art style of Jackson Pollock the most, and I thought Ed Harris did a smashing job of portraying him in the film on his life.

Lately I keep coming back to Van Gogh.  I’ve seen the film on his life, and the more I read on him the more I believe you can’t understand his work, such as Starry Night, without understanding his life and the world in which he lived.  It is widely noted that he was a tormented soul, but much of his torment came with his struggle over the church and religion.

For Van Gogh, yellow is the color he uses for love and light, and if you take a close look at his work in Starry Night, you will see that his yellow is everywhere except the church.  It’s strange, but Van Gogh’s work more than anything was a contextual and religious piece about the nature of the church in his day.  Clearly Van Gogh felt that God was everywhere but the church, as can be seen by the presence of yellow throughout the remainder of the work.

I say all that to say I believe good art- whether a song, book, painting, or anything involving our creativity- needs to be speaking about it’s own context.  I think there is a tendency in music and literature, what I’d call the U2 effect, to write about something that seems lofty and grand, but good music speaks to issues surrounding the mood that creates it.  I believe Jesus modeled this, when He talks about money, religion, etc, he frames the discussion in the context of 1st century Palestine. We may reach for commentaries to understand his words, but those listening to him did not.  His words were for the people.

I think it’s tempting to try to rise above our circumstances, move around them, but we shouldn’t be afraid to move through them.  What we create with our lives should be shaped by the contexts we’ve experienced life in.  We are all reacting to something, whether we admit it or not, it is apart of the human experience. Your greatest work or finest hour may come when realize there is a problem that deeply bothers you, a prevailing injustice that doesn’t seem fair, and like Van Gogh, you say something.