A few weeks ago, I was preparing my room for the year. I was hanging and hammering and whatever else needed to be done to make our art room a happy place. I saw Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” As I looked at it, I thought, “Maybe this year I don’t hang this. Maybe I pick another artist or work…” Then, I looked closely. Swirls of motion, spots of brilliant light, rolling hills. I could fall right into this painting and fly.
This painting is speaking. More than one hundred years later, the paint is telling a story. I lean in. “Mr. Van Gogh, talk to me.” I study his passionate marks upon the canvas. This is not a tame artist. This is a man blessed and plagued by emotion.
I study his story. He didn’t smile much. He tried several other ways to make a living; he even preached like his dad. He loved art the most, though. He loved the hurting people, too. He painted the poor in the middle of their pain. His colors were dark. He understood the pain.
Anyone looking at “Starry Night” is easily content to be happy. Children in the art room talk about this happy art he made. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” But I know part of Van Gogh’s story. He knew darkness in a deep way, and he also knew the exhilarating joy of His Savior.
What you may never be told is that this work was painted from the window of an insane asylum in France. Van Gogh was a patient. I can’t help but feel the angst in his soul, the torment he must have felt to be in that place in that season of his life. I am sad that he felt isolated.
I think he had to have painted this when sleep was gone. In the dark before dawn, when many sleep, he is not sleeping. He is looking into the heavens, perhaps crying out for hope to rescue him.
And he preaches with his paint. “Help Thou my unbelief,” as he strokes the brush. “In Him is light, and there is no darkness at all,” as he dabs the color. “My dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58) He moves mountains and color erupts. He dives all in, and we are transformed in the grace he now finds.
Art tells a story. How many have been moved by “Starry Night?” We know that the stars’ brilliance is, in part, because they are set in the dark night sky. We can’t have the awesome sky without the presence of that contrast.
Darkness doesn’t win out on this canvas. The struggle is easily forgotten when we dance across the night sky, swept away in the motion of the starry host. And my mind wanders into other starry nights, and a multitude of heavenly hosts. They all end in one magnificent song. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
–Megan Skeels, CCS Grammar Art teacher