Van Gogh’s Starry Night as seen by an astrophysicist | Janna Levin | MoMA BBC | THE WAY I SEE IT


Paul Kobrak: Are we all good then? Janna Levin: Is that Venus? Jodi Hauptman, Senior Curator, Drawings and
Prints: I think that’s a question for you! Janna: I think it is. I’m Janna Levin and I’m a professor of
astrophysics at Barnard College and Columbia University. So here we are in front of the completely iconic Starry Night. It’s quite extraordinary. It’s so alive and it’s so vibrant. I definitely react to a piece as-is. I don’t want to have to read about it or
know about it, in a sense. I want to just experience the piece. And of course, this piece, very dramatically, I find, it is very strongly imposing of the subjective experience, because it’s so, almost, active. And we know, of course, that one of the things about the stars that used to fool us was that they seemed
permanent and inactive. Jodi: This is a work that seems to be trying to express or describe something that isn’t touchable, that lacks materiality, kind of sky, or wind, or weather. How do you depict something that’s kind
of immaterial? Janna: I think there’s a general idea for
me in both art and in science that we’re navigating the divide between the subjective and the objective. Paul: What you’re doing and what scientists
are doing, and what artists are doing is they are – it is just a way of sort of explaining the
world. Janna: Where the commonality is is in the curiosity, and the asking questions about the world. To see the world differently, to see yourself differently, because of this knowledge or this image, or this study, you’re compelling people, though, ultimately to still be human beings and to still view themselves and the cosmos. There is a reality out there. There was Venus in the sky that morning. You know, the moon and the stars. There is an objective reality, but that’s never what we’re seeing. We’re always seeing this through some human filter, some process, some analysis, some thinking, some presentation. And I think that we underestimate that aspect of human intervention in anything we perceive, really.

11 thoughts on “Van Gogh’s Starry Night as seen by an astrophysicist | Janna Levin | MoMA BBC | THE WAY I SEE IT

  1. The only way to see this painting without a million people around it. Also Vincent was connected to the cosmos in ways that ordinary mortals can not comprehend!

  2. This is a wonderful concept and well executed! It’s so refreshing hearing another perspective, I love how cerebral she is and I’m truly grateful to all those who took part in this 🙏🏻
    On a side note I’m enamored of the Rousseau in the background…my mom made a mosaic of that for our shower wall when I was a kid, I’d kill to still have it 😂

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