“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”


As we recently celebrated Van Gogh’s 165th birth anniversary, we remember one of the most immediately recognizable artist in the context of post-impressionism, and the impact of his art on the world. Overworked and underappreciated in life, little would he have imagined that his legacy would continue to live on in a myriad ways, immortalized through a wealth of masterpieces he dotted us the world with.

One of his most celebrated work, “The Starry Night”, painted in 1889, has been found to mirror natural turbulence, down to mathematical precision. One of the most complicated theories in the history of modern physics, so much so that the Nobel-prize winning physicist Werner Heisenberg even once said: “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: ‘Why relativity?’ and ‘Why turbulence?’ I really believe he will have an answer for the first.”

This connection between Art and Science has an interesting history. In 2004, using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists saw the eddies of a distant cloud of dust and gas around a star, and it reminded them of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” This motivated scientists from Mexico, Spain, and England to study the luminance in Van Gogh’s paintings in detail. They discovered that there is a distinct pattern of turbulent fluid structures close to Kolmogorov’s equation hidden in many of Van Gogh’s paintings. The researchers digitized the paintings, and measured how brightness varies between any two pixels. From the curves measured for pixel separations, they concluded that paintings from Van Gogh’s period of psychotic agitation behave remarkably similar to fluid turbulence.

Van Gogh and the other Impressionists represented light in a different way than before, capturing its motion, for instance, here in star light that twinkles and melts through milky waves of blue night sky. This was possible due to the effects caused by luminance, that is the intensity of the light of the colors on the canvas, which managed Van Gogh”s quickly executed prominent brushstrokes to capture something strikingly real about how light moves.

It is interesting to note that in this period of intense suffering, the artist was able to  accurately perceive and represent one of the most complex concepts in the history of mankind. What is even more interesting, though, is what this art piece represents – the harmony between Art and Science and how they go hand in hand – a wonderful legacy of Van Gogh’s paintings.


Image Source- Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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