Vincent Van Gogh and the Use of Expressive Lines

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Vincent Van Gogh utilized numerous methods to create the landscapes and portraits that define his short artistic career. Rather than painting a landscape or portrait to portray exactly what was present, Van Gogh was interested in painting what he felt as well as what he saw. The world around him was an expression of how he felt and interacted rather than a simple image to be recorded. Van Gogh’s brushstrokes, often wild and unrestrained were not messy or quick, but expressions of emotions regarding his subjects. The emotion beneath the painting was more important to him than the painting itself.

Largely because of the development of photography in the time period during which Van Gogh lived, painters were no longer commissioned to paint imagery as it actually appeared. Art became an opportunity to interpret the world around the artist instead. The technology behind paint began to grow as well. The oil colors Van Gogh used changed from 1883 and the images of cottages and peasants in earthly browns to vibrant chrome yellows during his Paris days. With the freedom to take their canvases outside and the portability of tubed paint, Van Gogh and his contemporaries were freed from the restraints of in-studio imagery.

Even in Van Gogh’s line drawings, the expressive lines of this shift could be seen. His Fritillaries, painted in Paris in 1886 while studying with the Impressionists is a great example of Vincent Van Gogh’s sketches, recreating an image of the flowers without the constraints of depicting the exact image of the flowers. After meeting with the Impressionists, whose work used lighting and short, expressive brushstrokes to recreate the effects of light reflecting off of objects, Van Gogh continued to develop his own style.

Regardless of the few studies that Van Gogh produced though, very few Van Gogh pencil and paper works remain, possibly because he rarely sketched before painting. His painting was furious and rapid, taking place before his subject and never hesitating. Van Gogh did not paint from memory, nor did he spend his time painting what he saw.

Thus, for those that that have strived to learn how to paint like Van Gogh, the process is less about technique and more about mindset. Though there are often particulars in each of his paintings, such as the use of yellows, the rapid expressive brushstrokes of his wheat fields and the swirling patterns of his Saint-Remy days, Van Gogh did not have a singular style. Instead, he utilized the diversity of the new pallete available to painters to recreate images as he felt them.

Taking for example, his painting of Olive Trees. In this painting, Van Gogh paints his tress with full, twisting and curving branches. The ground does not lie flat, but undulates like the ocean, while the sun is a blinding yellow, blazing across the sky. His brushstrokes do not convey mere color. They depict life on their own, utilizing the painter’s energy to depict his emotions.

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