We often feel lost. Unable to express ourselves. We try many different ways. Some write, some paint, some dance and some photograph. Some find true expression in the work they do. But very often we find ourselves unable to express our true selves. We need “symbols”, that is works of art which represent "life-situations". It is one of the basic needs of human experience, to see life situations as meaningful. We discover and even create the worlds we live in through our interaction with symbols such as paintings, sculptures, music and dance. Being able to pause to see and reflect on art and aesthetics is a core element of well-being at Raga.
We begin with Vincent Van Gogh, one of the world's most famous painters (and my favourite). Van Gogh battled with psychological troubles all his life. In his short life, he made some of the most beautiful works of art. The Starry Night was inspired by the view from his window at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where he spent twelve months in 1889–90 seeking reprieve from his mental illnesses. Such beauty stemming from such dark places.
The Starry Night is very dear to me. It was probably the first Van Gogh I fell in love with. On a visit to Oxford in the summer of 2008, I was wandering through the town looking for book shops. I found a little shop, tucked in a corner. As I was looking through the books, I found an art book with a gorgeous title page. It was a book of paintings by Van Gogh. That was the first art book I purchased. In 2013, I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And there it was; the original Starry Night. I don't remember how I felt at the moment. I had quite forgotten about it, until I discovered again that The Starry Night is at MoMA and it brought back vague memories.
In 2014, my artist sister Priti made a painting for me. I don't remember telling her to make any specific work. It was a fortuitous happenstance that she made a replica of The Starry Night. No matter how many times I see it, it evokes something special.
My tryst with The Starry Night continued after 2 years in 2016. I had just started The Northstar School. We had a wonderful art educator from Virginia, Lauren Patton. Lauren has an incredible approach to art which I discovered by seeing her work at the school. Like many of us, I don't have fond memories of art classes at school. But Lauren worked with kids. They painted together. And before moving back to America, she painted this version of The Starry Night, which still hangs in our art studio.
And our kids continue their journey of discovering and expressing through art. Kids are still painting their versions of The Starry Night.
What would Vincent feel about how we remember him today?
After more than a hundred years; in a place far far away from his home.…
PS: Recommendations for learning more about Vincent Van Gogh:
- Read Lust for Life (1934), a biographical novel written by Irving Stone.
- Listen to Don Mclean’s song Vincent.
- Watch these two movies:
- Loving Vincent: An experimental animated film (2017), directed by Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman. I saw this movie recently. It is an incredible aesthetic achievement. Every scene in the movie is an actual painting by artists.
- Vincent: Documentary (1987), directed by Paul Cox.