October’s Easel: The Psychology of Yellow and Vincent Van Gogh

The Color Yellow

Due to the month of October being National Depression Awareness month,  I thought it a good month to examine the color yellow. Cadmium Yellow remains a staple in artist paint and can be seen here in the popular painting “Sunflowers” by Vincent Van Gogh. Yellow is used by artists to evoke feelings of joy, light, and happiness in their work.

When decorating your home, paler tones of yellow reflects light. The right tone  creates a welcoming atmosphere and energizes its occupants. Like white, yellow also makes the space appear larger than it is.

On the flip side, darker or more electric shades of the color creates anxiety, so it’s not recommended for nurseries (unless you want a crying infant) or to be used for more than a featured wall in any room (unless you desire to feel restless). The hotter tones of yellow are great for adding pops of color with pillows, art, or even one featured wall. Utilizing this tone adds drama and creativity to your home.

The Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutch post-impressionist used yellow in many of his paintings. Could it have been an attempt to add some joy in the flowers and cornfields, that he himself didn’t feel? Vincent Van Gogh is often portrayed as a tormented vagabond, who sought isolation. Indeed, he’s a mystery, but he had redeeming qualities that many remain unaware of because we’ve sensationalized the negative aspects of his life. The act of chopping off his own ear after a heated dispute with Paul Gauguin—an artist he worked for at the time—definitely sounds psychotic, but I believe cutting off his ear has been magnified over his talent and heart. What if I told you he had an inner ear problem that made him suffer from extreme vertigo most of his adult life? I’d like to take a moment to consider the story many of us haven’t heard.

Vincent’s Childhood:

Vincent was born on March 30, 1853, in a small village in Holland. He was one of six children born to the village pastor, Theodore, and his wife, Anna. Born into a middle class, rigid Protestant family, his inquisitive nature conflicted with that of his strict father. He held a relentless curiosity, high energy, and a sensitive nature. He tended to say everything he felt (which his father disdained and in return held back affection and approval of him). It’s been reported he faced cruelty by some family members and was treated as an outsider, a foreigner in his own home. Vincent found respite in nature and escaped on long walks. Vincent showed much compassion to and questioned the treatment of those less fortunate, and forgave those that hurt him quickly, and tended to blame himself for the hurt.

As a Young Adult:

He fell in love with a woman and requested her hand in marriage, but she rejected him…twice. Heartbroken, he poured himself into the study of the Word. He read through the Bible several times and decided he wanted to serve God but didn’t appreciate the pious way the church served the poor at the time.

His father placed him in school to learn divinity, but he failed in the classroom. He thrived on being autodidactic (self-taught). He was placed in a poor mining community to serve as a layman pastor. He lived in a small wooden hut, dressed like a miner, and even dusted his face with charcoal to appear as one of them, but they dismissed him and his message. Again, he felt rejected and like an outcast. He turned to art. It is here while painting he found God.

His Art:

He had humility, never thinking he’d reached greatness as a painter. He worked manically at his craft, neglecting his own personal needs in the process, which negatively affected his health. When blunders were pointed out to him, it crushed him. He sought acceptance. Towards the end of his life, he painted a canvas a day.

I found this quote by him in a vintage book I purchased at a thrift store. He stated, “One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul, and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passers by only see a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney and continue on their way.” I believe the truth being, Van Gogh was extremely intelligent but suffered from anxiety, loneliness, health issues, and depression, which led to mental illness, and possibly, schizophrenia, although this is just my theory because no one knows. I wonder if he’d felt parental affection, and if his inquisitive spirit and intelligence had been treated as a gift rather than a nuisance, would he have turned out differently? Again, no one knows.

In the End

One of his last paintings, in July of 1890, called “Wheatfield with Crows,” seemed to hint to his upcoming demise. On Sunday, July 27, he walked up to a neighbor’s farm and behind the manure heap shot himself in the abdomen. Holding his midsection, he made it home and to his attic room and collapsed. When his brother Theo, whom he loved, arrived, Van Gogh told him, “Don’t weep. What I have done was best for all of us.”

Although Vincent never received admiration for his work while he lived, I imagine he’d be shocked today, to see his paintings being valued and celebrated by museums and collectors around the world. His work is appreciated for its emotion, movement, and use of color. He created around 2,100 works of art, which include 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last few years of his life.

Tammy Carter Adams is the founder of The Hallelujah House and co-host of The Hallelujah House podcast.

Previous Post
Dear Creatives,
Next Post
Learn to Create a Memory Verse Journal Page
October 2023

Archive Posts

Contact Us

%d bloggers like this: