The Disguised Romantic in Academia: Van Gogh's Agony
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Lauren Soth is working throughout his entire article to express and prove Van Gogh’s intentions and therefore Van Gogh’s agony as the meaning behind his masterpiece, Starry Night. Soth’s thesis claims the painting was intended to console, but also another attempt at a failed painting “Agony in the Garden” which was meant to be imaginative, but based on conceptual history. At first his thesis seemed too bold, although arguable. By hiding his opinions and focusing on tangible evidence such as a solid visual analysis, powerful biographical details, and letters written by Van Gogh himself, Soth’s seemingly exaggerated opinion transforms into an insightful and well-supported thesis.
An isolated look at Soth’s organizational style shows it is concealing his opinions. Instead of having a few paragraphs categorized and separated, he limits the number of theories and changes it into a logical conclusion from verifiable evidence. One of the first examples in his article is the section called conceptual history. The topic sentence expresses his belief that Van Gogh was preoccupied with the idea of painting the night sky. He states facts about the letters Van Gogh wrote and later gives his reader the actual letter as proof. This style works by making the reader take his belief as fact instead of interpretation because of how logically his interpretation follows. This technique is powerfully persuasive and highlights the argument’s form in each paragraph as one of his key strengths to back up his thesis.
Another way the organization strengthens his argument is by having clear topic sentences all supporting Soth’s thesis. These topic sentences are usually interpretations, but as explained in the previous paragraph, very well-supported. This...
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...that extra push to at least mention this potential prejudice and prove he was aware of these connotations.
To the reader, the article is both incredibly gratifying and frustrating, especially with the final line of the article: “At its most profound level, the Starry Night is Van Gogh’s Agony.” The cockiness of this statement at first read seems pompous. The idea that a masterpiece could be reduced to something so simple was disturbing. However, through the organizational style, overwhelming facts, examples in the artist’s own words, and linking it to Agony in the Garden; the idea of unsubstantiated snobbery is dismissed. So much so that vexation is replaced with a sort of admiration around an extremely well thought out and passionately provoking conclusion.
Soth, Lauren. "Van Gogh’s Agony."
The Art Bulletin Vol. 68, No, 2 (1986): 301-313.