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Michael Kappaz Writing and Rhetoric 10/17/2013 Beauty of the Cosmos: The Rhetoric of A Starry Night over the

Rhone In September of 1988, Vincent Van Gogh put his brush to a piece of canvas and created Starry Night over the Rhone. In the midst of an increasingly modernized world, Van Gogh was still preoccupied with the wonderment and beauty of nature. The night sky and the beauty of the cosmos particularly fascinated him. The piece depicts a clear star-lit night illuminating a small river bay. Across the bay the shadowy outlines of a small town fade into the night sky. The texture of Van Goghs brush stroke is clear and precise. The sky is composed of blotches of shades of blue differing ever so slightly stroke by stroke. Oversized golden orbs illuminate the sky. The dark concentrated golden center of the stars fade in strength as the light is absorbed by the infinitely shaded blue sky. The bright orbs of the towns street lamps are dispersed among the coastline. They are heavier in color than the stars, which light the sky. The reflections of these lamps drag across the river, out towards the audience. These reflections of light create golden bars across the dark blue river, expanding in width as they near the opposite shoreline. Three sloops are moored to a small island on the near shoreline, but only their shadowy outline is visible. On the near shore, in the bottom right corner of the painting, a couple dressed in heavy clothing face away from the water. Their faces are barely visible as they hold each other side by side, and stare out into the night sky. The entire painting is dark, with the only light illuminating from the stars of the sky and the lamps of the town.

This piece of art radiates peace and tranquility. The various hues of dark blue, mixed with the soft golden lights, create a fantasy-like depiction of night. Van Gogh clearly has a very strong impression of this site. It sparked strong emotions of peace and calmness, and he expresses those emotions though his representation of his impression. This painting is that representation of his impressions. He creates this painting in way that may not accurately portray the physical sight he is seeing, but it portrays what the sight means to him. The painting reveals what Van Gogh thinks and feels when he gazes upon a star-light night sky. The absence of realism in the painting, the comforting hues of blue, and the soft glow of light express the calming presence the Van Gogh wants the audience to experience. Van Goghs depiction of night reflects his fascination with the night sky. The stars hang in the sky like floating lanterns, creating an incredibly vibrant and simple depiction of the night. The stars are exaggerated both in size and illumination which, along with the strangely light shades of blue, create a fantasy-like sky. Moving toward the ground level, Van Gogh begins working more realistic color into the painting. The dark hues of blue and black, the accurate shades of gold for the street lamp, and the believable colors of the couples clothes increase the reality of the scene. The clear and precise geometric shapes composing the boats moored to the beach continue to underscore a sense of realism. There is a clear transition in the style and color scheme between Van Goghs night sky and the land it shines over. While he creates the sky in a way to evoke wonder and fascination, he paints the

land with believable, earthly colors. This choice is deliberate and intended to portray Van Goghs concisely differing impressions of the night sky and civilization. The nature of the rivers reflection of light expresses another important point. The incredibly large and bright stars in the sky are not reflected on the waters surface. Their imminent beauty and brightness remains trapped away in the sky, unnoticed by the earth below. Contrarily, the much smaller, much less wonderful street lamps cast enormous bars of golden light across the rivers surface. Van Gogh clearly puts more effort into beautifying the sky, yet he paints no reflection of the beautiful sky onto the river below. Instead he decides for the river to reflect the man-made light of the street lamps. In a rapidly industrialized era, Van Gogh still remains fascinated and bewildered by the beauty of the sky. Yet by reflecting the lamps instead of the star across the river, Van Gogh argues that humanity has lost its interest in the natural beauty of the sky. Through this painting, he wants the people who are rapidly being dragged into and industrialized consumer-based world to stop and reflect on what they are turning their backs to. The couple in the bottom right corner of the painting portrays this argument quite literally. They stand there, embracing each other on an incredibly enchanting night, with their backs to the magnificent sight. Van Gogh does not portray them gazing in awe at the starry night; he paints them ignoring it. Van Gogh was thirty-six years old when he painted Starry Night Over the Rhine. He had become increasingly depressed and mentally unstable leading up to his death only a few years later in 1990. A significant proponent to his mental illness could be the issue that he conveys in this piece: that he is noticing an

incredible beauty that most of humanity is overlooking. Van Gogh clearly has an abounding passion for the beauty of nature and of the sky in specific, and humanitys general lack of interest unsettles the young artist. Upon deep analysis by the audience, Van Goghs purpose and argument can be discerned. This analysis is crucial to understanding Van Goghs argument, which questions the effectiveness of his work. Many will look upon this painting and simply appreciate a beautiful, dramatized depiction of a pleasant sight. Few will notice Van Goghs heartfelt plea to appreciate the natural wonder that surrounds us. Van Gogh does not explicitly portray his argument to the audience, but perhaps this is intentional. If Van Goghs purpose is to challenge the audience to discover the nature of his argument, his argument would prove very effective. His plea for humanity to recognize and appreciate the beauty of the natural world would parallel his desire for his audience to really investigate his artwork to determine his hidden truth. In the same way that it is easier to focus on relatively short lived excitement of the industrializing world, it is easier to quickly glance over the painting and appreciate only its physical beauty. In the same way that one must look past the paint strokes and color schemes, Van Gogh wants the audience to look past the chaotic excitement of the modernizing world and to appreciate the infinite beauty of the cosmos. He is challenging the reader to pry at the painting to find the same bewilderment that haunts him. In the context of Van Goghs mental state at the time of the painting, A Starry Night over the Rhone also expresses a sorrowful tone. It portrays the bitter-sweet emotions burning inside of him. He has an abounding love and respect for the

beauty of the natural world, yet he is sorrowful that many disregard this beauty. The beautiful, idealistic portrayal of Van Goghs night sky is what he wants the world to see, but he knows that he is alone with this vision. He knows his vision to be a fantasy for most, but he yearns for the world to recognize it as the reality he knows it to be.