The Art Principles of "Starry Night"


Vincent van Gogh's famous painting "Starry Night" is a painting that captures many different artistic principles and elements. The painting depicts a small city surrounded by a night sky; the moon and stars are vivid and shining bright. During his lifetime, van Gogh only sold one painting. However, his posthumous acclaim as an artist has resulted in his works becoming some of the most replicated in the world.

Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" continues to captivate audiences worldwide.
(Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is a composition that depicts a starry evening over a French city. The painting uses a nighttime scene, with stars, the moon, trees and a city to evoke comfort and familiarity from the viewer. Even though the night sky is bright and swirling, the composition is somewhat soothing. It contains rhythm, harmony and balance across the canvas, which creates a unified whole.

Line in art maintains the basic form of a shape and can be actual, implied, vertical or horizontal. In "Starry Night," van Gogh uses actual lines in the swirling shapes of the stars seen in the sky. The lines are horizontal and act as directional movement indicators, leading the viewer's gaze across the top of the composition. These lines are the focal point, or center of interest, in the entire piece, and are the first thing most viewers see when looking at "Starry Night."

"Starry Night" on view at museum
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Texture is implied in "Starry Night." Van Gogh's heavy brushstrokes cause the painting to appear to have a rough texture. The painted lines in the sky and on the tree in the foreground of the painting look three-dimensional. The texture creates contrast, and makes the hills and stars in the painting seem emphasized and on a different plane from the rest of the elements.

People viewing artwork done by Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh
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Artists use color to add emotion and meaning to a work of art. It can help create balance, harmony, contrast and rhythm in a painting. In "Starry Night," van Gogh uses color for all of these purposes. The bright yellow of the stars and moon repeat, creating rhythm and balance in the composition. The yellows contrast against the blues seen in the night sky and the village, which makes the yellow hue stand out more. The balance of dark and light also creates harmony throughout the painting.

Multimedia art installation highlights "Starry Night"
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