Why “The starry night” is universally beautiful

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This is a guest blog post by Joel Cherrico. He is a StarTalk Patron, an author for the American Craft Council and a full-time potter.

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“The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.

Vincent van Gogh’s life was short and mysterious. He died at age 37, and his presumed suicide was never confirmed to be true. He was tormented by failures and rejection from almost everyone, except his loving brother Theo. Even with Theo’s help (who worked as a full-time art dealer) they only managed to sell one of Vincent’s 800+ paintings. Theo was so equally tormented that he fell into depression and died only one year after Vincent.

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Vincent van Gogh (left) and Theo van Gogh (right) portraits painted by Vincent in 1887 and 1889.

Today, Vincent’s paintings sell for tens of millions of dollars at auction. You can find them in the most prestigious galleries on the planet, and his story has even been told by famous movie stars: Kirk Douglas, Tim Roth and even Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy.

How could so much pain and obscurity create one of the most loved artists in history, only after his death? I’ve been obsessed with Vincent’s legacy. “The Starry Night” was so obviously special, right from the start. It has magnetism.

I had to see it in person.

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Sienna (my partner) and I flew to NYC to see it in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Dozens of people filled the room, swarmed around Vincent’s priceless masterpiece.

It has a “Wow factor” that’s hard to describe, but you can feel it in your gut. 15-20 people crowded around, wide-eyed. I leaned in close for a glimpse of the legendary brush strokes, giddy as a schoolboy. A museum guard immediately flung his hand in front of me, smiling. Whoops! A little too close I guess…

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Why was it so magnetic? Here are three reasons:

#1: The “Starving Artist” Myth
Vincent embodied it. Text hanging next to “The Starry Night” tells how Vincent painted it from his asylum room in France. Vincent suffered from mental illness, possibly epilepsy.

His story makes us look at his art differently. Vincent inspires us because he turned pain and struggle into beauty.

But why do we love this myth? Very few of us actually aspire to live as full-time painters and artists today. Why else do people gravitate to Vincent’s art?

#2: The Color Blue
Blue seems ingrained into our consciousness: blue bodies water, blue skies, and even the brand logos of corporations that run so much of our society: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, AT&T, IBM, Boeing, Intel, Ford, GM, American Express, Visa…they all use blue, as revealed in this insightful blog post by 99 Designs.

Vincent’s gorgeous blues were undeniable. Pablo Picasso, another famous painter who lived and worked just a few decades after Vincent, created a whole body of art around the color: Picasso’s Blue Period.

But why didn’t people swarm Vincent’s other blue paintings? “The Olive Trees” is gorgeous, swirly, blue and also on display in the MOMA. It hangs just a few feet away from “The Starry Night.” Why don’t people swarm around this painting too?

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The Olive Trees, by Vincent van Gogh.

#3: Desire to Understand Cosmic Mysteries
“The Starry Night” was surrounded by people updating their phone backgrounds. Vincent’s actual brush strokes were right in front of them! In my head, I fumed. “Can’t you people put down your cameras for one second?! JUST LOOK AT THE PAINTING!!”

I took a minute to calm down…and it started to make sense. Technology helps us understand our world. We use it to probe more deeply, and to learn.

Vincent was a force of nature. He saw things we couldn’t. We want to glimpse into the beauty that Vincent saw, even if we can only get that from a photo.

Before leaving, I joined the crowd. My photo is an everyday reminder of Vincent’s art. It reminds me that trying to understand cosmic mysteries is a worthy goal.

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Technology, Generosity and Kindness
Today, artists can use technology to connect our art with people. Combine that with kindness and generosity, and you have a recipe for success. StarTalk proved that, by connecting us with Neil deGrasse Tyson, in person!

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Joel Cherrico, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Sienna Kuhn at the StarTalk Saturnalia. Photo by Justin Starr Photography.

Thanks to giving back as a StarTalk Patron for years, StarTalk invited us to Pioneer Works in Brooklyn for the StarTalk Patreon “Saturnalia Holiday Party.”

We support StarTalk because their work gives us remarkable new insights. For example, a replica of “The Starry Night” hangs in Neil deGrasse Tyon’s office, and he speaks about it regularly. Back in 2013, Neil spoke about it on stage at “The Science of Storytelling.”

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Those words inspired me to create a whole new body of artwork.

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“Cosmic Mugs” have now been enjoyed by people in 16 different countries. In one month, they raised $34,099 on Kickstarter (ended 12/10/2015). Just last year, they helped grow our business 343% after evolving into their own website: cosmicmugs.com. They are the reason we could come to NYC to explore “The Starry Night” more deeply, and to meet the man who inspired the art.

There was an epic bonus….

I enjoyed the giddy delight of watching Neil deGrasse Tyson wax prophetic about the Cosmos, in person, whilst sipping wine from an “Asteroid Cup” that I made with my bare hands.

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As a full-time artist who has struggled to make a living for years, I know how hard it can be. Years ago, I almost went bankrupt because I could barely sell enough pottery to survive. Making the art is hard enough, and then trying to sell enough to live off of is even harder.

Technology helps people connect with art faster and easier. Now, a whole team of workers help me use iPads, DSLR cameras and even images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to share the pottery process and inspiration with our customers, who live all over the world.

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Technology Lets Artists Time Travel
Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy was so inspired by Vincent’s story that he shared it through his own art. The man who told us to, “Live long, and prosper” created a theater performance about the short, beautiful lives of Vincent and Theo.

How many of Vincent’s masterpieces were lost due to his short life? How many more paintings would we enjoy today if just a few people had supported his work, or if there were more tools available to share his vision with more people?

Vincent and Theo were martyrs. Their vision was unwavering. The world would come to realize their vision, and how valuable it was to everyone.

Perhaps if we were more kind, curious and generous to each other, while exploring new technologies, then more of us might see the “Universal Beauty” Vincent saw.

Leonard Nimoy saw it, and embodied it forever in his last tweet.


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BONUS: Cosmic Mug Giveaway, $540 value
Giveaway, no purchase necessary: 3 people will each win one of Joel Cherrico’s “Cosmic Mugs” (cosmicmugs.com) $540 value: 3 winners x ($165 + $15 S&H each), totally free! To enter, leave a comment on this blog post before August 17th, 2018 responding to the following question:

Why do you think Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is Universally Beautiful?
Simply leave a comment on this blog post before Friday 8/17/2018 telling us why you think The Starry Night is “Universally Beautiful.” The StarTalk Team will select three people to win, and Cherrico Pottery will mail each of the 3 different winners one Cosmic Mug ($180 value each: $165 +$15 average packing and shipping) shipped almost anywhere globally, totally free!

To enter, you must leave one, genuine comment on this blog post, or the moderator will not approve your comment or include you in the giveaway. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Please allow up to 48 hours, or sometimes even a bit longer, for the moderator to approve your comment. Limit one comment entry per person. Void where prohibited, over 21 years of age only. We will pick winner before the following Monday August 20th, 2018 around 2pm Central and will be notified via email. The winner will receive the pottery shipped to them nearly anywhere globally, totally free! You can view more details at the Cherrico Pottery Giveaway Policy here or the Cherrico Pottery Terms and Conditions here. If you have any more questions or concerns, or please reach out to Joel Cherrico, anytime at our email here.

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