Vincent Van Gogh was both a tragic failure and and a talented success. Unrecognized and penniless in his own lifetime, his paintings are now among the most appreciated and valuable in the entire art world. Although he isn’t a character in my YA novel Starley’s Rust, he and his art certainly feature strongly for reasons that are too spoilerish to go into here. Of course I’m far from being the first writer to be inspired by Van Gogh. There’s Don McLean’s hauntingly beautiful Vincent, a song that I’ve loved since I was a child. British sci-fi series Doctor Who (my favourite TV show of all time) also featured Van Gogh in a 2010 episode written by the great Richard Curtis, the screenwriter of classics such as Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones, and Love Actually. The Doctor brings the real-life Vincent forward in time to a Paris museum in this tear-jerking scene with Bill Nighy (Van Gogh is superbly acted by Tony Curran).
In Starley’s Rust, the mysterious title character Starley explains that Vincent, “was always searching for a way to express visually what he could see in his mind.” Coincidentally, I recently came across a TED Ed video on YouTube that shows just how incredible Van Gogh’s vision of the world actually was. Fluid dynamics is an immensely complex field of mechanics. Its mathematical formulas attempt to describe and predict the flow of liquids and gases.
But sometimes art does a better job.
The short video The unexpected math behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” shows how the artist captured this most difficult of subjects. The video blurb explains:
Physicist Werner Heisenberg said, “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.” As difficult as turbulence is to understand mathematically, we can use art to depict the way it looks. Natalya St. Clair illustrates how Van Gogh captured this deep mystery of movement, fluid and light in his work.
As the video narrator says, “…in a period of intense suffering, Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind…”
I had no idea about any of this when I wrote the following passage in Starley’s Rust. Near the end of the book, our hero Kari Marriner goes on Wikipedia to research Vincent’s life and work:
I clicked back to the main page, then on the Starry Night picture. It was the view from Van Gogh’s room in a mental institution. The swirls in the sky… the thing that made the painting so beautiful… and that’s when it dawned on me. In fact, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The shimmering web of the Dark Universe that Noon had shown me from the rooftop of the Warrington. It was so similar.”
Okay, so that actually is a little bit spoilerish, but you’ll have to read Starley’s Rust to find out exactly what part Vincent Van Gogh has to play in Kari’s adventure. As for me, I’m going to watch the clouds and stars…
PS – I wrote this last night when it was dark!