Starry Night from the asylum

One of the most popular paintings in history, The Starry Night, was created while the Vincent Van Gogh was residing in a room at the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence asylum for the mentally ill in 1889. One year after Van Gogh experienced a mental breakdown and self-mutilated his left ear. After voluntarily admitting himself into the asylum, Van Gogh painted this view from his east-facing room over 20 times. The asylum was half-empty, which allowed him to occupy both his east-facing bedroom and use a ground-floor room as a painting studio.

Some say that this piece of art was influenced by his use of digitalis, a drug used to treat epileptic seizures and mania. Digitalis is known to often cause an individual to see their surroundings with more yellow or green tint and see halos around the lights they observe.

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is a chronic disorder of the nervous system characterized by recurrent, unprovoked focal seizures that originate in the temporal lobe of the brain and last about one or two minutes. Van Gogh eventually took his own life, shooting himself in the chest and passing away two days later on July 27, 1890 at the age of 37.

What can we learn from this work? I believe his battle with epilepsy and mental illness moved him to create this “hallucinatory style”. He created over 2,100 works of art (810 oil paintings). Most of them in the final two years of his life. Van Gogh was at war with his emotions, and he did not shy away from expressing that. I am not necessarily a fan of the painting, but I respect his dedication to the arts and his ability to pick up a paint brush on days he was most certainly being tormented.

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