Starry-eyed with Van Gogh
Many requests for ‘Starry Night’ moved one artist up the list of books chalked out for our art theme. A few seemed familiar with the painting and the name of its artist, having seen it on phone screen savers of their parents, on note book covers…Starry Night seemed to be everyone's favourite. Van Gogh's work seemed to be loved and appreciated universally today, as it wasn’t in his lifetime.
I had two choices for Van Gogh, but it was the stellar illustrations of this one, Vincent Can't Sleep -Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre, that seemed to draw me into Van Gogh‘s world. Having been influenced by the impressionists and the post impressionists, Van Gogh blended right into his new position up our list.
The session began with a guided visualisation exercise...the children drew the night sky as they saw in their minds eye. This is always great fun, as we all appreciate the others imagination.
Here are a few examples of the range of the children's imaginations....
I then showed the children an image of the Starry Night Painting and asked them to give me words.
Some shared how it made them feel, words like...moody, sad, happy, joyful, makes me feel like I'm on an adventure, excited.
Some felt it was cool, funny, beautiful.
Others just stated what they saw...Early morning, stars, lots of twists and twirls, lots of designs
What this exercise does is help children express the thoughts in their heads.
The book is absolutely stunning and the text lyrical. But I must admit that this wasn’t easy for me to use with my younger elementary children. The text, though beautiful and appreciated by the older children, needed some elaboration from me, for the younger ones. I felt the usual energy that I pick up on, lacking some of the usual excitement. However, it turned out that the gorgeous illustrations had kept the children spell bound.
The book takes us through Vincent’s life, from childhood, uptil his death. Touching upon his insomnia, it gently captures the symptoms of his mental illness, showing how he struggled with with moods. The book does not emphasise this, but is featured as part and parcel of his personality and talent. While it does show him in hospital, it does not feature the ear cutting incident or his suicide.
We ended the session with Don McLeans famous song Vincent, and spoke about how the artist Van Gogh’s life and work, inspired a music artist so much, that he wrote a song about him, immortalising Van Gogh in melody. One artist inspiring another.
Here the children could appreciate how literature can extend beautifully, from prose to poetry to song, and inspiration can be found anywhere.