Walt Whitmans influence on Vincent Van Gogh when it pertains to his painting Starry Night and nature.
Whitman and Van Gogh
Attitude towards Nature
Nature is an important aspect that influences interactions between human beings. The interaction of humans and nature, in one way or another, will either improve the quality of the different components of the same environment or adversely affect its performance. Whitman in his poem, “Song of Myself,” has addressed the aspect of nature and how, in his time, people perceived and used this important resource. For instance, he claims that the same nature promotes the interactions of human beings and even influence the connections they make. At their different locations of their residence or habitation, he claims that humans interact with the same elements of nature. Persons with significance in an individual’s life must not stay in one place. It being so, though special to one another, they are separated by distance. The other aspects that facilitate the connections that humans have been time and superficial differences (Whitman, 2).
Additionally, nature, in Whitman’s poem, is perceived as a recreational spot. Recreation being one of the ways most if not all human beings spend their leisure time, is a service offered by nature. Grass has been depicted as a good spot to spent lone time and a forest is a fascinating place and lively thereby elevating the soul of an individual. In the song, Whitman describes a scene where a group of youths are seen bathing at the shore and this only attest to the fact that nature is a good source of recreation. The fragrances that people keep and use in their homes smells nice and though this being true, they couldn’t match the benefits of the atmospheric air that human beings depend on. The air in its pure state serves humans best and it therefore humans duty to protect the quality of the air to ensure continuity of its services (Whitman, 5).
On the other hand, Whitman admires nature. From the poem, he admires the components of nature and describes how fascinating the different components of nature are. He creates in himself a sense of belonging and being part of the same nature. In his understanding of nature, he describes nature as a teacher. Through the constituents of nature humans are capable of gaining insight on matters that affect their daily lives. By revealing the magnificence of nature and spending most his time in such locations, Whitman shows how spending time and joyfully living each day is improved through one’s interactions with nature. Whitman observed nature with deep respect and also wished to embrace all things liberally as he perceived nature perform (Whitman, 8).
Conversely, nature is a perfect hunting ground. In an occasion in the song, Whitman talks of going hunting in the forest. In addition to hunting, he also addresses the issue of fishing. He describes a scene of a group of fishermen in fishing boats. Hunting and fishing are important activities that can only be offered to humans through nature and nothing else. It is also noted that the open spaces, composites of nature, are good in conducting weddings and marriages. A couple is united and celebrates their union in an open place as he describes. The group here was spotted from a distance as using the natural ecosystem to conduct the special event in their life. Nature, therefore, is portrayed in Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” to be powerful and always enable the interactions and connection that entire humanity enjoys and celebrates. It therefore goes that with human nature being are nurtured and their perceptions changed and thus making it an important part of human life (Whitman, 13).
Influence on Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”
The “Starry Night,” is an art painting that was done by Van Gogh in the year 1889. Though at this time, Van Gogh was experiencing a mental deterioration, when regained part of his conscience back he produced a remarkable piece of art through painting. At this time, Van Gogh was interested in the works of Whitman and read a lot of his poems. It is through the letter to his sister Wilhelmina that we find that Van Gogh was a subscriber to the great works of Whitman. He recommends to his sister the same pieces of work and tells her that his brother has them and should make an attempt of reading them. In this letter written around 8th September 1888, Van Gogh further tells his sister of his interest in painting a starry night. At this moment, it is agreeable that the concept of a starry night was in the mind of Van Gogh as well as the ideologies running through the works of Whitman (Schwind, 2).
It being that Van Gogh named his painting as “Starry Night,” also confirms an influence of the work of Whitman. It is arguable that this form of naming was influenced by “From Noon to Starry Night,” a piece of work done by Whitman. It is not only through the title reference but also through the letters written that we find Whitman’s centrality to the work of Van Gogh. In the work of Whitman, “Song of Myself,” we find a correlation between the earth and the sky. The sky at night is perceived to have a masculine dominance and the earth depicted to have the feminine qualities. Whitman describes the distinctions of the sky and the earth yet also shows that the two have a close relationship that which can be termed as sexual relationship. The same idea as presented by Whitman is vividly painted by Van Gogh in his art “Starry Night” (Schwind, 2).
The upper third quarter of the painting is painted thick and the crescent moon here made promiscuous within the sky. It only shows the dominance of the night sky. The close relationship between the earth and the sky and the sexual ambiguity is also presented in the painting of Van Gogh. In his work, Whitman presents that the grass blades are unique on their own even though they are identical. Van Gogh in his painting has also pointed out this ideology. The twelve stars in the sky are not as exact yet as a whole mark an important relationship to the setting in the painting. The painting also captures the reasoning of Whitman where alludes that the sky at night is a beautiful sight composed of the blue and the green coupled with the lights from the moon and the stars. The waves produced due to the brush movements in the paint also depicts some magnetic force between the sky and the earth. It is through that magnetic connections that it is argued that the prominent tree is growing upwards. The connection between the mountains and the skyline is also hard to miss in the painting. It being that the connection between the night sky and the earth is made prominent in the painting, it is true to say that the work of Whitman had a central influence on the work of Van Gogh (Schwind, 2).
Schwind, Jean. “Van Gogh’s” Starry Night” and Whitman: A Study in Source.” Walt Whitman quarterly review 3.1 (1985): 2.
Whitman, Walt, and Ezra Greenspan. Walt Whitman’s” Song of myself”: a sourcebook and critical edition. Psychology Press, 2005.