“Blue skies, smiling at me. Nothing but blue skies, do I see.”
Anyone who has known me for a more extended than average period knows that my favorite artist is Dutch Post-expressionist master painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), and that my favorite color is blue. Van Gogh’s story is intriguing, and each time I read his story, I discover things about Vincent I never knew.
The blue skies were his palette of inspiration, spread above enormous sunflowers and golden brown wheat fields as far as the eye could see. Vincent’s unique style of thick monochromatic brushstrokes enhanced the beauty and impact of his work. He said, “I never get tired of the blue sky”. The color blue was striking for Vincent. Blue would be a source of healing for him as he battled depression and other challenges, which ruined most of his relationships.
He was a tortured, artistic genius.
In many ways his short-lived, tragic life was a triumphant one, because today he is acclaimed as the most famous artist in history. Misunderstood by just about everyone in his life except his brother Theo, his best friend, Van Gogh struggled to fit in a world that could not see or experience the glories of sight and sound the way he did. His visual communication on canvas told the world who he was, often revealing hidden messages about his life, albeit joyful or painful. His empathy for the poor, zeal to preach the Gospel, and passion for the arts sustained him throughout his mental, physical, and emotional traumas. “The sadness will never end”, were the last words he whispered before dying in the arms of his brother Theo. In recent years there has been speculation as to whether he actually committed suicide, but that discussion is for another blog!
My MOMA experience
On a quick trip to New York City, I had the privilege of seeing Van Gogh’s most famous work, The Starry Night (oil on canvas, 1889) at MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art), permanent home since 1941. After making my way through a mob of tourists, I stood in front of the masterpiece in awe. As I fixed my eyes on it, my imagination took me to the asylum room at the mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. A psychotic breakdown landed him there, but he never stopped painting. What was he thinking, feeling, or uttering as he painted? I envisioned watching as he peered through a small window into the darkness, painting the mesmerizing constellations splattered on a backdrop of midnight blue.
I was intrigued by the work’s size, the vibrancy of colors: blue, yellow, grey, and white. The twinkling stars, swirls of clouds, and spirals of light made the painting come alive right before my eyes. Vincent’s signature thick strokes and globs of paint added to the drama and motion. Elements of his life were woven into the painting, telling his story of faith, life, and death. Don Mclean’s classic hit song, “Starry, Starry Night” profoundly captures the essence of Vincent’s life.
The Power of Blue
Blue is the third primary color. Psychologically, blue benefits the mind. In artmaking, blue is often used to express calm and peacefulness. Physically, the cortisol levels in the brain and metabolism are stabilized when the five senses engage in blue. Theoretically speaking, the color blue is the color of the sky and sea. Blue is the color of power, strength, and understanding. Trust, intelligence, calm, wisdom, confidence, loyalty, faith, truth, and hope are all descriptive of the spectacular hue that emulates sadness and depression and hope and joy.
Biblically speaking, blue represents the healing power of God (Matthew 9:21), the Word of God (Numbers 15:38-41), and the presence of God. The heavens (blue skies) declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Remember the story in Exodus when Moses, the priests, and 70 elders saw God on Mount Sinai standing on a blue threshold? “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky.” (Exodus 24:9-10).
Four years ago, I went to the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland. I was astonished when I saw the 28 ft. high glass window painting of “Jesus Walking on Water” by master Tiffany glass artist Frederick Wilson. In the Porter Window, hung in the pulpit’s center, this massive glass window, gifted by the class of 1869, commemorated Admiral David Dixon Porter. The window was in the original Naval Academy Chapel built in 1845. Wilson painted the blue skies and waters so powerfully that one could see and feel movement, a peaceful, settling stirring. I was in the presence of God.
I never get tired of the blue sky because when I see it, I am closest to God,
I never get tired of the blue sky because I know He is watching, loving, caring for me.
I never get tired of the blue sky because it assures me that only God could create such a beautiful, perfect world, and that He will make it new again someday.
I never get tired of the blue sky because the blessed hope and glorious
appearing of Jesus will surely come soon in the sky.
I never get tired of the blue sky.
(W.S. Barnett, 2020)
William S. Barnett
"The Starry Night", Vincent van Gogh Public Domain
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