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Mark Harden's Artchive: CD-ROM Reviews

Van Gogh: Starry Night

from Voyager

Available for purchase online

click on the thumbnails to view the screen captures.

See also: The Complete Works of Vincent van Gogh on CD-ROM

In Starry Night, art historian Albert Boime sets out to debunk the "mad genius" myth that surrounds Vincent van Gogh. Using Starry Night as an example of the quintessential modern work, Boime offers a reading that rationalizes this seemingly surreal painting. Boime makes his case based on astronomical data that proves the representations of stars and moon in Starry Night are precisely accurate for the night on which it is known to have been painted.

The CD-ROM consists mostly of Boime's 124 page lecture, which is primarily biographical, with Starry Night the only work examined in detail. This analysis is directed at the painting's content and historical background rather than its technique. Although there are other images illustrating the text, they are small and somewhat mediocre in quality. There is a visual section devoted to Starry Night that allows for extremely detailed viewing. Although the individual brushstrokes can be easily seen, the image could have been made much sharper.
The lecture is narrated by Boime, and his voice lends it an authenticity and interest that a "professional" narrator would have lacked. The lecture can be heard with or without the accompanying transcript. I say "transcript", rather than text, because it has a nice informality to it as the words precisely follow the sometimes ungrammatical speech of the lecture. The CD-ROM includes an expanded (without narration), more scholarly article by Boime. It is of special interest for comparing the different ways used to say basically the same thing for different audiences. I wouldn't say the lecture is "dumbed down", but the words are certainly shorter than the article!
The presentation is somewhat linear, and in that sense limited, centered around the lecture. There are hyperlinks to definitions and occasional sidebars that expand the content. A selection of Vincent's letters to his brother Theo is a valuable resource. But overall, this is one of the few art CD-ROMs that I feel I have totally explored. A less linear structure, although sometimes confusing, always leaves you with the feeling that you can go back for more.

This is not a CD-ROM for someone who wants to learn about van Gogh's entire oeuvre. But it would be of interest to van Gogh fanatics, and a good starting point for a deeper look at the man who is erroneously identified as the epitome of the "mad genius".

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