Better Know: The Starry Night | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios


[TONES] [MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: Yeah, you
know this picture. You can probably name
its creator and at least one detail about his life. And I bet you know
the title, too. I mean, heck, you might
have even done the puzzle. It depicts some trees, a town,
and, of course, a night sky, something we’ve all seen
in one form or another. So what’s so special about it? Is it the image itself that
enchants us, the thickly applied whorls of paint? Or is it the story of the
tortured artist behind it? Let’s better know
“The Starry Night.” When Vincent van Gogh– and, yes, I’m going to try
to say my own botched version of his Dutch name– painted the picture
in June of 1889, rapid industrial
development was underway in much of Western
Europe and the world. Railroads made travel
easier than ever. Karl Benz had begun to sell the
first commercially available motor wagon. The first skyscrapers
were going up. The Moulin Rouge opened
that year in Paris, along with that kind of famous
structure, the Eiffel Tower, marking the entrance to
that year’s World’s Fair. Charlie Chaplin
was born in 1889, followed four days
later by Adolf Hitler. That year, Mark Twain
published “A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Nellie Bly circumnavigated
the globe in 72 days. And Chef Raffaele Esposito
invented the Pizza Margherita. In the wider world of art,
Impressionism was out. The more methodical,
scientifically rigorous Neo-Impressionism was in. And Cezanne and the
artists who would later be called Post-Impressionists
were bubbling up. Rather than making new optical
impressions of the world, like the Impressionists,
these artists were more interested
in expressing their emotional and
psychological impressions through style, symbol,
and bold use of color. Our man Vincent was among them. Born in the Netherlands in
1853, he bounced around Europe throughout his
teens and early 20s until returning home
in 1880, committed to becoming a great painter. His surroundings became
his subject matter, developing his skills as
a draftsman and painter, using a mostly dark
palette to document rural landscapes, still
lifes, and Dutch peasants. He moved around Europe and
eventually made his way to Paris in 1886. There, he encountered
and metabolized the work of the Impressionists
and collected Japanese prints. We can see his brushwork
loosen and palette brighten. But he found the city frantic,
overwhelming, and cold, and decided to move
south to Arles, where he embraced what he
thought of as a more purer subject matter– the countryside, more
still lifes, a small town, and its residents, who
became his friends. He depicted the changing
seasons with an increasingly acute and intense
attention to color. Vincent corresponded frequently
with his younger brother Theo, who supported him both
financially and emotionally. In his letters, Vincent
sensitively and eloquently shares thoughts about art, life,
and his unrelenting struggle with his mental health. On April 9, 1888,
he wrote to Theo, “I must also have a starry
night with cypresses, or perhaps above all a field of ripe corn;
there are some wonderful nights here.” That summer, he painted
several night scenes, which he found to be, quote,
“much more alive and richly colored than the
day,” a gaslit interior of Cafe de la Gare, a
portrait of his friend Eugene against a starry
sky, and the banks of the River at night. Night was not a new
preoccupation for painters. And van Gogh was certainly aware
of his contemporaries’ efforts. While productive, he longed
for contact with other artists. So Theo arranged
for Paul Gauguin, who had been
painting in Brittany, to come his way in October
of ’88 for artistic exchange and to be Vincent’s roomie. But it didn’t last long. The two disagreed. And by the end of
December, Gaughin was gone, and Vincent suffered
a psychological crisis that involved his infamous
mutilation of his own ear. In 1889, he entered himself
into an asylum at Saint-Rémy, situated at the foot of
the Alpilles Mountains. And it’s here that he painted
our picture in question, one of many he made of the
landscape that surrounded him. He wrote to Theo, “This
morning, I saw the countryside from my window a long
time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning
star, which looked very big.” Now, there are a number of ways
this picture is not accurate. He couldn’t see the
town from his window. And even if he
could, the steeple didn’t look like
the one he painted, which bears closer
resemblance to the steeples of his native Holland. The morning star
is probably Venus, which he could have seen. But at the time, the
moon was unlikely to have been a crescent but
instead a waning gibbous. The dramatic swirling
patterns in the sky, which dominate the canvas,
do kinda, sorta match then-published observations
of spiral nebulae or galaxies. But they wouldn’t have
been visible to him. Some studies claim the swirling
sky and radiating stars demonstrate luminance,
with scaling similar to that of the
mathematical theory of turbulence. Some have even
linked this depiction of physical
turbulence with times of psychological
turbulence for van Gogh. But other theorists
convincingly speculate the swirls represent– wait for it– wind,
clouds propelled by the mistral, the strong
northwesterly wind of Provence that the artist wrote of. Accuracy is not the point. The picture is based on
observation and memories of places but is
driven by emotion. The sky is painted wet
on wet, executed quickly and confidently. The composition is
superbly balanced. The vertical of the
cypresses and steeple counteract the
horizontal of the town and stabilize the diagonal of
the tumbling mountain range. The town is still, emphasizing
the dramatic action everywhere else. The hills are rolling. The cypresses
flicker like flames. And the sky is in
spectacular motion. There are many
interpretations of this piece. Cypress are often associated
with the afterlife, a bridge between the Earth and Heaven. And Vincent wouldn’t live
much more than a year after the painting’s
creation, dying by suicide in July of 1890. Some see the painting as
inspired by a religious mood or achieved in a
state of heightened reality or great agitation. But the evidence
doesn’t show this. He had written of the vast peace
and majesty of the night sky, in fact. And wrote, “The sight of the
stars always makes me dream.” Theo didn’t love
the piece and wrote, “I think that the
search for some style is prejudicial to the
true sentiment of things.” But it’s style that Vincent
was desperately seeking, which he had committed to
discovering for himself. Back in 1874, he
wrote to his brother, “Painters understand nature and
love it, and teach us to see.” With “Starry Night,”
van Gogh does just that. He teaches us to see the sky,
not as it looks but perhaps as it feels. This image is universal
in that we’ve all looked out on a night sky. But never have we seen
it quite like this. In a career that
lasted only a decade, van Gogh articulated a
style that we can’t forget, that continues to draw
crowds and captivate us. “The Starry Night”
inspired Don McLean in 1971 to write a song about its
misunderstood creator, never appreciated during
his lifetime, which was played on repeat in 1996
in Tupac Shakur’s hospital room as he died. Vincent’s life story
has been adapted to film on a number of occasions,
including the recent “Loving Vincent,” a fully painted,
animated film that brings “The Starry Night,”
among other works, to life. But “The Starry Night stands
for much more than the search for recognition or immortality. With this work, we feel
our smallness standing on the Earth and the hugeness
that lies above and beyond. We feel the striving
and the desire to share with others the world,
not as it is but as we see it. If you’re interested in better
knowing the why behind things we encounter every day, then
check out the new series “Origin of Everything,”
from PBS Digital Studios. It explores the unfamiliar
history behind familiar ideas and objects, from where the
hashtag came from to why we get grades in school. I found the episode on why
women give birth lying down to be particularly
interesting and kind of wish I’d watched it
before giving birth to two children lying down. This episode is supported
in part by viewers like you through Patreon. Special thanks to
our Grand Master of the Arts, Indianapolis
Homes Reality. If you’d like to
support the channel, go to patreon.com/artassignment. [MUSIC PLAYING]

100 thoughts on “Better Know: The Starry Night | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

  1. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAyoudidvangoghyoudidvangoghyoudidvangogh!!!!!
    Freak out over. Now, please excuse me as I proceed to actually watch the video.

  2. Thank you so much for slowing down the pace when you talk on these videos, I use them all the time in the classroom and 14 year old high school freshmen don't always catch everything when you go so fast! Love the videos! Keep 'em coming!

  3. I literally have a art exam tomorrow and I literally need to write an essay on my chosen painting. A few weeks back I chose starry night by Vincent Van Gogh and to this point I haven't even looked at any information about him.Then this video pops up out of nowhere I swear either there is a god up there of YouTube has just found a way to read the minds of its viewers. Thank you so much

  4. I always thought the sky in Starry Night reminded me of how I used to see the night sky before I got glasses. Tiny dots of light bloom to many times the size. Street lights and traffic lights turn a night time cityscape into an ocean of yellows, reds, and greens. I don't know if Van Gogh had perfect vision, though.

  5. I really love these videos! Sarah's voice is so soothing and I love how you make art so easy to learn. Thank you!

  6. I would love to see a video about the Barnes Collection. I recently learned about what happened to the Will of Dr. Barnes through a class that explores how art is show and portrayed in documentary films. I was both shocked and angered by the miscarriage of justice but I also felt that the documentary I saw was loaded with bias and emotionally charged. This of course makes it an enormously successful documentary but raised my suspicion. Is there another side to the story that is not revealed or accurately portrayed in The Art of the Steal?

  7. Instead of feeling small when I look up at the night sky's silent beauty, I feel connected & want to know the secrets that seem to be hiding up there. Perhaps corny but heartfelt. Vincent's heart apparently felt something different & it was, & still is, amazing. What a gift to be able to express those feelings for all the world to see, a world that also can look up at that very same sky. Sarah, thank you. You are the perfect teacher.

  8. Thank you so much for your insightful analysis. Aaaaaand for the intro to that Don Mclean song. Even better to know it played in Tupac's room while he passed. Powerful stuff.

  9. "but, to me Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent.
    He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again.
    To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived."

  10. Oh goodness, this painting continues to captivate me years after I first saw it with young eyes.

  11. I am absolutely obsessed with the Better Know painting series. PLEASE create more of these videos!!!!

  12. Even without watching this video, I knew Van Gogh. He was a childhood favorite artist. His life story is depressing and upsetting. His works including the Starry Night is one of the best and most recognizable works of any artistic era.

  13. https://blacksheepweekly.com/2018/06/08/standards-of-the-time-an-essay/ I write about Van Gogh and how badly he was judged during his time compared to now. Hope you check it out!

  14. This was great! I love how your videos remind me I love art and inspire me to get back to it, so thank you!

  15. This is so painfully scripted. I couldn't learn because so many of your "facts" wrong. so many things you missed in his life. and its Theeo, not Tayo.

  16. The Starry Night was one of the first paintings that left a big impression on me. I saw it from books when I was a kid, and it never left me since.

  17. I know this is completely beside the point, but I love your soundtrack! Could you give us a way to access it? Thanks! I love your videos btw~

  18. 3:38 that's not the real one, in the real one Van Gogh is smoking a pipe and the whole painting/face is very clear and bright on purpose by Vincent to show that he has recovered in health after the ear-cutting incident.

  19. very well spoken and I thank you for that I aman artist who worships his work love what he done and how he expressed himself he was also a well known pencil artist and his early work many see as dark and gloomy I see as reality as he drew and painted many peoplw working and many many times he depicted a bent back showing the working class as he did with the miners in his earliest work in pencil he chose dark palettes for many landscapes whick I only once again only see reality as he seen it. his impasto style is a hard technigue as he did it ,it consist of control and passion with a very short brush stroke achieving his wonders ,it has taken me a lifetime to conceive it and duplicate it best that I can,amongst all the masters he is the one and only that gets my total attn. and my love. Agiant fan of pbs I watch it daily and applaud you all for your daily content I watch here in Alabama where it is in my hometown of Montgomery where I grew up with it and first painting along my second love Bob Ross for so many years befor acquiring sev. art scholarships by age 11 I now continue my art as a 48 yr. victim of a stroke who lost my painting/drawing hand which is now paralyzes but my love for art pushed me to train my other hand to paint as I continue giving much credit for my life of art to pbs and I thank you more than words can say

  20. Imagine all the art forms loosing qualitative rationality and becoming completely obscure as modern art. We will be paying $ 20s to sit in a theatre and staring at the two hour long video of a clock showing time. Or reading a novel that has words randomly put and not one single sentence making sense. Or listening to babies crying and calling it music. May be not opening the lid of the camera and calling it photogrqphy.

    May be only one group of elites will be intellectual enough to understand the true value of those things. The rest of the world and the elite group will have differences of opinion.

    But thats all ok.

    Whats not ok is, we all will know that art had died and it will have been killed by pretentious twats.

  21. Thinking that he painted what he saw is ridicules ,he used what he saw and exaggerated the essential and left the obvious vague .

  22. his roommate was also a swordsman and the only testimony of him cutting off his ear comes from him which is very suspicious account of events

  23. That's honestly the best pronunciation I've heard van Gogh by a non-Dutch speaker. The only mistake is that the first g shield have the same sounds as the second. Personally I'm fine with people pronouncing it 'Go', it's not close but everyone knows what you're talking about.

  24. I am but no means an art expert, but I do love it and find it interesting. So I'm very grateful for this entertaining and fascinating essays! Thank you! I watch them all, I never comment because I do playlists, but just know your hard work is very much appreciated!

  25. Van Gogh was a complicated person. He's was a great painter and all, however, he wasn't a good person to be around.I just imagine how many discussions he and gaugin must've had, also he was basicaly taking advantage of théo (his brother) for money (more and more) and spending the money with women (prostitutes), i'm not gonna deny the guy but… well, poor théo. And apparently he gave his cut off ear to a woman (prostitute), I mean "Oh shit". Read Van Gogh: the life by Steven Naifeh.
    It seems that I have left the impression of practically hate for guy, but no. He suffered since he was born by his mother and diseases. Well, then. That's all I had to say. 😃👌

  26. The actual way to pronounce his name is ‘fun ggggogggg’ (gggg being the clearing throat sound) so there are 2 of those in his name which is why I just keep it English and say van Go..

  27. People can be so eager to give definite meaning to abstraction in art. Instead of saying what it means to them, they try give it an absolute meaning. This is incorrect.

  28. I m sick of the mentioning of the ear in every van goghs video, come on. Dude was tesla of painting or tesla was van gogh of science. They both were hard up, cherished the nature, lonely and geniuses

  29. being Dutch means you can enjoy the stupid ways people say ‘Van Gogh’ because no English speaker can say the ‘n’ or ‘g’ right.

  30. mesmerizing… but a bit disappointing that the amazing movie was barely mentioned as it shed new light on perhaps the greatest artist of all times…

  31. McLean came to perform at our San Diego Wild Animal park years ago. I and my then young children were enthralled by his melodies and lyrics, but he wasn't even finished caressing our ears with Starry Starry Night before many of us on that expanse of drying grass were if not sobbing – teary eyed.

    What an emotion. I wouldn't trade that song for all the Mozarts in the world.

  32. this made my Art exam so easy, and i actually learned quite a lot than what my teacher had told me. you have explained everything in so much detail and simple language 🙂

  33. I heard he hated starry night and also Paul for influencing Vincent’s style during this time as both are very similar- another thing is out of everything I’ve heard it seems like bi-polar is very probable imo as his mood would swing greatly and his on off way with Paul is why he went back and forth between living in Paris and living with Vincent so often.

  34. Amazing video! But I don't believe that suicide has been confirmed. It is also thought that he had gotten shot and, due to his depression, refused to get help and accepted his fate.

  35. I recently watched a vlogbrothers video where John asked what we like, what we want less of and what we want more of. I am an elementary art teacher and I would love to see some more AA videos that could be played at schools. I absolutely love this channel and would love to see an AA that whole schools or classrooms could do, more cooking videos that were just a bit shorter and ones that don’t mention anything sexual (for example Andy Warhol’s foot fetish, just maybe a sub category for elementary levels)? You guys do some pretty amazing things and I wonder daily how on earth you guys juggle it all. Thanks so much for bringing art to the masses. Nerd fighters rule!!

  36. In my pharmacology class we learned Van Gogh May have suffered digoxin toxicity from foxglove and may have seen green halos around objects which may have inspired some of the color usage in stary nights.

  37. I remember the time i played Atlantica Online and most of my online time just hanging around on this outside Van Gogh's dungeon map with The Starry Night as the skybox. It's truly beautiful and this painting is my #1 favorite ever.

  38. It has become known and gradually accepted by historians that Van Gogh was murdered. As presented in Loving Vincent!

  39. flash card images, female chirping like a magpie ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,worthless bullshit effort. go elsewhere for Vincent !

  40. As much as I love art video. Art can never be analyzed. It’s simply something you just have to enjoy.

  41. Teachers says paint what you see not what you think but I guess Van paint what he thought not what he sees

  42. My grade school art teacher was OBSESSED with this painting….To the point she ever showed us any other paintings or any other artists.

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