“Starry Starry Night” was written in 1971 by singer Don McLean. Inspired by a biography of Vincent van Gogh, the title was derived from what is the best known of van Gogh’s paintings, Starry Night. For over thirty years now, I find myself from time to time, whistling, humming, or singing this song to myself.
Or maybe not.
I think sometimes I am singing it to van Gogh himself. There are paintings and other works of art which evoke an almost worshipful response in me, but van Gogh’s painting do so more than any others. To say why is perhaps to bare my own feelings in an uncomfortable way; however, I’ve found, they are not unique feelings at all, but shared by many.
Van Gogh could never do what he did best, as perfectly as he wanted. The fact that his paintings did not sell seemed, for him, to confirm that self-assessment of his work. As one writer has written, “He loved his paintings, but they could not love him back.” He absorbed, in an unhealthful but inevitable manner, the human hurts and sadness around him, and exaggerated it all as his own. No matter what other joy or happiness he may have realized from time to time- and he did- the sometimes small, often large current of empathetic sadness flowed always though his soul. There are no smooth lines in his paintings, just as he could see no smooth, even, clean lines in the world around him.
Nonetheless, van Gogh loved passionately, so passionately and with such intensity that it hurt him. The beauty he saw in the fields, skies, flowers, and cedars reflected the beauty, however lined or imperfect, which he also saw in the face of each person. The love for his world can be felt in each of his paintings,but the frustration he felt in not being able love enough is also apparent.
In 2002, I stood in front of one van Gogh’s self portraits in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. McLean’s song was, of course, running through my mind as I whispered, “Thank you” and promised that the next time, I would bring flowers.
La tristesse durera toujours…”the sadness will last forever” (Vincent’s last written words)