Design Under the Influence: Vincent Van Gogh

[ Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889 ]
“I make a plain background of the richest, intensest blue that I can contrive, and by this simple combination of the bright head against the rich blue background, I get a mysterious effect, like a star in the depths of an azure sky.”
Erika from small shop here, bringing you a sixth edition of “Design Under the Influence”! I wanted to take a post to talk about one of the most recognizable paintings in modern history, post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), for a few reasons: his place in art history, his technique, his signature hue, and his influence on modern music.
While Impressionists like Claude Monet advanced modern painting with refusing to paint exactly what they saw, they still used the colors that they saw, i.e. true colors of the natural world. Van Gogh strove to use imaginative color and exaggerated movement in order to express emotion rather than reality — a very modern thought at the time! And if you think about the fact that The Starry Night was painted purely from memory, you can’t help but be affected by the brilliance of this clearly creative mind.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see a Van Gogh painting in person, then you know that it jumps out at you: the depth and dimensionality make you feel as if you could walk right into it! This is because of two reasons: first, Van Gogh was a master at using complementary colors against each other to intensify the luminosity of each. And secondly, he carefully built up his brushstrokes in layer upon layer to create a 3-dimensional depth that is very intentional: although the movement of the brushstrokes often look hurried and sporadic, it is said that he would sometimes paint only one stroke a day!
One aspect of his paintings that I particularly love is his use of a vibrant indigo blue that is so intense you can’t take your eyes off it. It reminds me a bit of rich blue lacquer walls we’ve been seeing a lot in interiors lately. Especially when paired with its complementary yellow/orange, I can’t help but think they must have been influenced by Van Gogh’s paintings. Nonetheless, it’s a finish with a big impact:
[ Flickr ]
And how about art influencing music? I for one think it’s kind of neat that The Starry Night inspired one of the most beautifully written songs in the 1970’s: Don McLean’s Vincent (1970). McLean recalls he was reading a book about the artist and the painting, and felt compelled to pick up his guitar.
“Looking at the picture, I realized that the essence of the artist’s life is his art. And so, I let the painting write the song for me.”
Isn’t that beautiful? And have you heard Roberta Flack’s equally beautiful song Killing Me Softly With His Song (1973)? The backstory is that the original singer was so moved by a Don McLean performance that she wrote a poem and passed it on to a writing team that penned the song.
Some fun facts for you…hope you enjoyed it and will pass it on!

11 thoughts on “Design Under the Influence: Vincent Van Gogh

  1. I always learn so much from you, E! No one puts so much thought into their posts. I would have died without knowing about Don McLean – is that any kind of life?! No way!
    xoxox e (modern24seven)

  2. I’ll never forget the brush strokes in the one Van Gogh I saw long ago. I had never seen anything like it and was completely taken in by the beauty. Oh and that blue…I could just melt into it, it’s so dreamy to me!

  3. When I was in art school we had to copy a famous painting for a color class, and I chose Van Gogh’s “Café at Night”. I studied it thoroughly with many books and gave it my best shot. But I was blown away and humbled when I saw some of his works for the first time. They were amazing!

    Great interiors and great background about two of my favorite songs. Kudos to Erika.



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