To Read a Vincent van Gogh Painting

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The Starry Night 1889 Oil on canvas 73.7 x 92.1 cm (29.02″ x 36.26″) Museum of Modern Art (New York, New York, United States)

“Vincent van Gogh’s, ‘Starry Night,’ is Holiness on Full Display” – Stacy Sweeney

I’m learning to read the composition elements of a painting, for without this, stories are so empty. I enter an art gallery, where I stand and stare at a painting, only to see what’s in front of me. I  look, and I look, saying, “What is the artist telling me?” I am not a bystander. As an artist, I would like to bring the viewer to my side, and include him in my thoughts. I mean it. I am telling you that one picture tells more than a 1,000 words, and too often I have not studied well enough.

This most unusual “Starry Night” painting is easily identified as the work of Vincent van Gogh. His image is all symbolized for me in the Old Testament @Exodus 3:1-6,13-14, and described for me in the New Testament @Luke 2:8-15. After reading the Bible in One Year, I discovered many symbols in the Old Testament, that I might understand a little better the word descriptions I read in the New Testament. The symbol I am speaking of is the burning bush, and the word description I am speaking of is the heavenly host. Does this picture speak to you? This great purpose,€mmanuel, which being interpreted as God with us,” appeared in types and symbols, and revealed God. He did not choose a great Cedar tree of Lebanon, or an ancient Sequoia tree in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. God chose a bush. Look at him! Take off your sandals; stop and reflect awhile. This bush burns, and burns to feed the flames, but it is not consumed. I am not destroyed.

“When I have a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion, then I go out and paint the stars.”  // Letter to Theo Vincent Van Gogh, September 28, 1888

Simultaneously, as I am faced with the Old Testament bush on the front plane of “Starry Night,” I am also witnessing animated stars lighting up the night sky on the back plane, when God brought his supreme Son into the world. And although his Son is greater than the angels, God said, “Let all of God’s angels worship him.” Regarding the angels, he says, “He sends his angels like the winds, his servants like flames of fire.” I am suggesting that van Gogh‘s stars are angels. Luke wrote, “Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven.”

What I am seeing here is a painterly oil painting where the companion stars are not evenly illuminated but are fused together, seen in a strong light which surrounds them. Van Gogh’s frenzied, swift strokes bind separate stars together rather than isolating them from one another.

I’m seeing a recessional construction, dominated by swirls of light on the back plane that recede into depth and space. Van Gogh’s “stars” move back from the front plane, starting with a combustible bush in the front plane. A little further back in the middle plane is a steeple and perhaps the hills of Judea recessed along a consistent circular pattern. Other stars crafted circularly create an explosion on the surface of the picture, saying something psychological has happened here, something of great joy to all people @@@ the Savior, the Messiah, has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David.

I’m seeing an open composition of vigorous circulars. The stars are not simply contained within the picture, but are cut off by it at the sides. There is a feeling of uncharted regions of the universe beyond the edges of the frame.

The composition is dynamic rather than static. Finding stimulation in activity, it suggests movement and is full of uneven, momentary effects, as opposed to two equally important snowscapes, stillness and tranquility.
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This oil painting is about color. The use of color depends largely on how the light strikes them. Although I see continuous circular patterns that blend and mingle the independent forms into a cohesive whole, when I remove color from the painting, the painting loses it’s flare. I am most taken by the whimsical, prophetic imagery announcing the birth of Jesus in the sky.

And the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!”  I will present a few features and previews from the little village venue. Stargazing conditions are 100 percent, so we can sit outside pointing fingers at God’s handiwork all night.

~ §tacy §weeney