Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Starry, Starry Night

on October 10, 2022
(The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh)

I’ve visited many art galleries and museums, including the De Young Museum in San Francisco, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City, and seen many wonderful and inspiring paintings, but what really stands out in my mind is Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Its brilliant blue and yellow colors, active night sky, and peaceful ambience (in spite of the strong brush strokes and turbulent sky) provoke speculation, mystery, and fascination, in my mind. What was Van Gogh thinking? What was he feeling? Most importantly, what was he seeing?

It’s well known that he suffered from mental illness and attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He later died of the wound. His death surprised people who believed that he was actually in a more positive frame of mind at the time of his death. But who knew what was really going on in his mind and in his heart?

(People who have decided to kill themselves often appear more positive and energetic because they have made the final decision and no longer feel conflicted about their actions. In fact, people can feel so depressed that they lack the energy to actually harm themselves. Appearances are deceiving, and it’s important to remember this if you are dealing with someone in your life who suffers from depression and suicidal ideation.)

Sometimes, people ask if persons who are mentally ill are more artistic than others. When I worked in mental health, I met scores of patients who were phenomenal artists. Not only did they possess an exceptional natural talent for art, but engaging in art helped them to concentrate their attention, focus their thoughts, freely express their ideas and emotions, make sense of the larger world around them, distract them from troubling thoughts and feelings, and help them to cope with anxiety and depression. (When I worked in Flagstaff, we had an actual art therapist who would come in and do art projects with the patients.) I cannot say that their mental illness made them more artistic. In some cases, their lack of self-esteem and confidence actually caused them to suppress their talent. On the other hand, people who are intimately in touch with their emotions make great artists because they can freely express themselves without regard to social convention and self-constraint. But people who are over-sensitive and cannot manage their own emotions can be more susceptible to mental health issues.

So, it’s a conundrum. Did Vincent Van Gogh’s mental illness make him a great artist – or did his mental illness interfere with his natural artistic talent? I don’t know.

What do you say?

Perhaps Don McLean can answer that question:

(“Vincent” by Don McLean – one of my favorite songs)

Dawn Pisturino

October 10, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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41 responses to “Starry, Starry Night

  1. Interesting and informative post Dawn. All I can say is that according to his own writings, letters to his brother, he did not paint while in the worst moments, moments of psychotic breaks. I don’t think that his mental condition made him a good artist, I think he succeeded in spite of it. Usually mental illness does not lead a person towards success in the arts, neither do drugs or alcohol. Although, as we have seen with many rock stars especially, that they have overcome and imposed their work ethic on their illnesses and developed their talent in spite of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you. Although his perception of the world may have been unique, I think his inner struggle with mental illness probably held him back. I think it’s a romantic notion to believe that all great artists and writers are somehow more creative because of their mental health issues. Mental illness is a crippling disease. I appreciate your comments.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, you’re absolutely right, mental illness is a crippling disease, as is addiction to drugs or alcohol and it does not make a person more creative or artistic, it holds them back as you have so very well said. Thank you Dawn and all the best.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. kvbclarke says:

    Acknowledging mental illness and wanting to help out in our community is a creative act. Let’s support that!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paula Light says:

    Both! He is my favorite artist 💙✨

    Liked by 1 person

  4. utahan15 says:

    ahd theo and i did see
    loss and victory
    he took the wife
    and inherited
    tears and strife
    good riddance
    and good luck
    yeah!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautiful and touching tribute by Don McLean. Whichever came first–his artistic talent or his mental illness–I think that the two became one in the vibrancy and urgency of his work.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post Dawn and an interesting question about Van Gogh. What a nice complementary video from Don McLean. That’s an old song but when I listen to the words now, the message and questions resonate so profoundly than they did before. Thank you for addressing this condition so creatively my friend. 🌟🎨✨

    Liked by 2 people

  7. a sad telling and so important to continue to share. I do love his gifts he imparted and sad he didn’t get to fully appreciate it or did he. Thank you Dawn. 💗

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Jeff Flesch says:

    I tend to think it’s a both/and answer. That is, along a continuum of experiences, and personality traits, there are some that combine in specific ways, which I think contribute to creativity. The paradox is, of course, this same combination on a different day, may also be a barrier to creativity. Great post, Dawn!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Interesting to think some of his genius may have come from his ability to tap into strange parts of his mind

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Michele Lee says:

    Intriguing question about Vincent Van Gogh and his art/mental illness. Your paragraph on if “mentally ill are more artistic than others” is interesting, especially based on your perspective having worked in the mental health field.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I think that artists that are sensitive, they are Intune to energy around them. They see things in the way they are meant to be seen nature and beautiful and without judgment them that’s what makes them become creators themself. It’s people cruelness that make them sick. Just my take.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. To speak from my own personal experience, the depression during my youth and early adulthood was also combined with higher awareness and sensitivity for what was going on all around me and possibly the reason for the former. I saw no other option how to escape from those demons but to choose the most unconventional of existences and become an artist. It could have been any form of artistry. I guess it was Van Gogh’s motive also, as he had trouble fitting into the established society of his days.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I read an article about writers who suffered from depression. Every single one said that the depression enhanced their creativity, and they would not give it up. If creative effort is determined by our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, it makes sense that our perceptions of the world are colored by all of that, too. Art IS an outlet, but a positive one. Thank you for sharing, Michael!

      Liked by 2 people

  13. KK says:

    It’s unfortunate that such a talented person could kill himself. But destiny holds upper hand. God has not made anyone of us perfect. That’s the stark reality of life. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. balladeer says:

    Yes, that well-known fine line between genius and insanity is always a conundrum. Remember Oscar Levant’s remark “There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.”

    Liked by 3 people

  15. BBYCGN says:

    I think it depends on the particular mental illness and its effect on the individual at that point in time. Great post! Thought provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. “But who knew what was really going on in his mind and in his heart?” This is the question we always have to ask ourselves if the person themselves don’t tell us the reason behind their abnormal behavior. Great was of waving in art and psychology into the same post. I’m a fan!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Tim Shey says:

    Vincent Van Gogh is my favorite painter. I read his book DEAR THEO, which were letters that he wrote to his brother. It is a lonely life that brilliant people lead.

    Here is Don McLean’s song “Vincent” with lyrics:

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Dawn – thanks for your sweet and insightful appreciation of Vincent. He still touches people and so do you. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Interesting point. I once watched a documentary on the life of Van Gough. I never realized he had so much empathy! As a clergyman, he lost his post because he lived as the starving miners in his parish is order to help them rather than keep up a false religious standard for example. My own guess is that life can be overwhelming for such sensitive souls.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. kindfeelings says:

    Beautiful painting.

    Liked by 1 person

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