Short Story from a Painting – Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night over the Rhone

the-starry-night-over-the-rhone

I stopped at the end of the pier and gazed out across the bay.  A warm, salty wind whipped through my hair.  The sun had bowed out behind curtain of stars not more than an hour before, but the sky was still bright with lights, echoing the warm welcome of the air. Across the water were lamps from houses and shops that reached out in contrast over the deep and colored it with yellow swatches that moved like brush strokes across the water.  The stars shone out above and beneath the strokes in an arch that stretched from the sea to the sky in a blue mirror that was unbroken save for the motion of  the waves.

A briny gust from the sea whipped my hair about my head. Suddenly, I did not feel so alone. I closed my eyes and smiled, drinking it all in.  I listened to the fluttering of the breeze and the banging of the boats tied together against the dock.  I listened to the breathing of the ocean as the waves washed up and down the shoreline.  I heard the old wooden pier creek in protest against the battering waves, and felt it sway ever so slightly from side to side.

There was some magic in the atmosphere, and I spread my arms wide and laughed aloud to greet it. I looked around me for someone to share the moment with. I saw no one – till the sound of talking drew my gaze back down to the beach. A man and a woman were walking toward the dock arm in arm. She leaned on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He pressed his cheek against her forehead as they walked. I almost called out to them, but something held me back.

Realizing what that something was, I scanned the horizon one last time and inhaled deeply, then turned and hurried back up the dock to let the couple experience the scene for themselves. I hated to leave that place, but in so many ways it has never left me.


This was a piece I wrote a long time ago in an effort to practice descriptions, using different senses, and painting with words. It’s interesting to drop yourself into a painting and try to really experience it instead of simply looking at it. It’s even more interesting to try and record the experience you have when doing this.  I don’t mean simply talking about it though. I feel like it’s so easy to fall into the trap of merely telling our readers what we think instead of showing them, but having an experience yourself is always more engaging than just reading about it. Our task as writers is to use that fact to our advantage and do our best to allow our reader to have those experiences for themselves.

Research suggests that certain parts of our brain are unable to tell the difference between reality and a well-simulated reality. This means that we can make our readers laugh, cry, and be upset over events that never happened. We can even make them fall in love with people who don’t even exist in the real world – but the key is to be able to immerse them in our created worlds. If we cannot learn to master the art of showing, our readers will never be able to fully engage with our writing.

If you want to try this, find a painting that resonates with you and put yourself into it. Make sure you describe what it would be like to be there, not just what’s happening or what you see in the painting. I tried to make mine into a sort of narrative, but that’s optional. Make sure you share your finished product! Don’t be afraid of sharing your work. Not ever piece has to be a masterpiece, and  we cannot create the masterpieces unless we’re willing to sketch and try out new things.

Finally, remember that you do not have to be published to be a great writer. Vincent Van Gogh (the artist whose painting inspired me to write this piece) sold only one painting in his entire lifetime, and yet today he is one of the most well-known painters of all time. He could have decided that his work wasn’t appreciated or worthwhile. He could have stopped painting and done something else with his life, but he loved to paint. He painted for the love of painting. He didn’t let people tell him that he couldn’t achieve his dreams, and he didn’t let his lack of success stop him from trying to achieve those dreams. He is my favorite painter not only because his  paintings move me, but because his unfailing determination to achieve his dreams inspires me to not give up on mine.

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