Vincent van Gogh -- a story by Tiffany Cook


by Tiffany Cook

Listen to Tiffany Cook Reading Vincent van Gough

I have a very strong attachment to French Impressionist paintings, and my absolute favorite of these artists is Vincent van Gogh. While he is very well known for his second Starry Night painting, and for his Sunflowers work, I go deeper than that in my level of endearment.

Vincent van Gogh is quite literally my inspiration, my hero, and my role model all in one. His life was a hard one, spent with many failures and rough spots, as well as a constant fight with depression. Born in Holland, he found a love in painting the simple, common people doing what they did on a daily basis. This was not done often in that time period, and no one really understood it. He had a very dark pallet, using dark shades to illustrate the suffering and hard work that the Dutch peasants labored over repeatedly. He captured their emotions and their sacrifices while they worked. When he moved to France, he was introduced to a brighter pallet as well as impressionism as a whole. It was an attractive art form to him, and he began to use more yellows and oranges, and to branch out his subjects.

Depression was always a problem however. Something would go wrong in his life, or something would just not go as planned, and he would spiral. I think that many of his paintings are symbolic from this depression he felt at the time of their making. The last year of his life was spent at an asylum, before he checked himself out, and committed suicide a month or so later.

The paintings from his time at the asylum are what interest me the most as far as symbolism goes. Such as The Starry Night. It was painted in 1889, and has many illustrations of his mindset and views.

The dark shape in the forefront of this painting represents his emotional state at the time. He was in an asylum, nearing the time when his suicide occurred, so his thoughts were most likely shrouded. In the painting there is a quaint town in the distance behind this dark shape, which I think may represent the happiness and joy that he remembers, but from which he can no longer feel warmth. Most of the light from the town is coming from an area around the church — something else I do not think was an accident. Vincent van Gogh wanted to be a Church Pastor and preacher of the gospel for the vast majority of his life, and frequently write his brother, Theo, letters of his studies in the area. The Gospel brought him peace when he was in France, so the light coming from the church is not something that surprises me.

Something else that I find interesting is the second focal point of the painting. The sky is beautifully done, and by far most pleasing to the eye. The brushstrokes are heavier here, even for van Gogh, who normally used very bold brush strokes and amounts of paint. The main swirl that is in the center of the sky is much like a Ying-Yang in form. Both snatches of mist come from opposite ends of the painting, and meet in the middle. I believe that this was van Gogh's method of depicting balance that every mind should have between the 'dark' and the 'light' sides of themselves. The dark mountain-like form is on the left, and the moon that is unusually bright and surrounded by liberal white and pale yellow paint is on the right. Moon in the upper corner, and mountain on the bottom, similar to the Ying-Yang image in the sky.

With this imagery, I think van Gogh was attempting to explain his mind to himself... much like authors tend to write to express their thoughts and feelings, this was his manner of doing so at a very dark time in his life.

There are bright patches in the sky as well, that seem very scattered. I think these are moments in his life that were either important to him, or very joy-provoking for him. the others are lost in the fog inside his mind that is clouded with the depression, and thus, clouded over on the canvas.

One last thing... naturally, eyes go from left to right when looking at something. Because the dark form was on the left side of the painting, and more distinct than the others images on the canvas, I think it was meant to be seen first. This implies that he felt his depression taking over, and felt it was in the forefront of his mind.


I have many Vincent van Gogh and Monet Paintings on the walls of my room, and when I go to sleep, or am in a pondering mood, this is what I do. I lie on my bed, look at the paintings, think about the lives of the artists, and try to analyze them for symbolism. I took Advanced Placement Literature during my senior year of high school and was introduced to the world of writing analytical literature. I fell in love with it, and have transferred it to many others of my interests, including fine art. I am not sure if there are any more English junkies out there who love art to the extent that I do, but this is a main point of interest for me personally and is something that I enjoy sharing with others.