Starry Night and the Kolmogorov Scale

Some scientists suspect that Vincent van Gogh was autistic, and this painting, Starry Night, is one reason. The swirling and stormy skies you see here (as well as in his other paintings) seem to fit the precise mathematical formula for turbulence known as the Kolmogorov scale – which was devised 50 years after the painter’s death.

Autistic individuals are known to naturally grasp such concepts in lieu of verbal and social interactions (which van Gogh was known for lacking). So while it’s hardly written in stone, it’s a possibility. It’s also probable that his psychotic and epileptic episodes, which included hallucinations, allowed him the ability to capture these things naturally.

In fairness, though, there is some dispute of this, and it’s obviously quite difficult to retroactively diagnose someone long after they’ve died. Whether or not he may have had autism, numerous psychiatrists have debated a number of factors that contributed to van Gogh’s erratic behavior, including  his existing mental illnesses being further aggravated by absinthe, insomnia, malnutrition, poisons swallowed from his paints, and such. This autism idea is just the latest in a long line of theories, and doesn’t necessarily rule the others out.

3 comments on “Starry Night and the Kolmogorov Scale

  1. I am glad you mentioned that is a possibility. I am a bit weary of this (not so new anymore) fashion to ascribe dead artists some kind of mental disorder that can “explain” some of their music / art / writing. I don’t know if it is because they are closer to us in time, but 19th century artists seem to be the preferred target for this explanations. And I am especially skeptical with disorders that encompass a wide range of conditions, such as autism. I tend to think of this as a futile attempt to explain the mental process of an individual who happened to do things differently and perhaps with more depth than the rest. Even if Van Gogh had autism and suffered from epilepsy, or even if Beethoven was bipolar (quite likely actually) that does not tell us a whole lot about their creative process (I think we sometimes forget there are a ton of people with those disorders that do not exceed at their artistic or scientific endeavors).

    • Not much I can other than to say that you’ve made an astute observation. I’ve heard theories that suggest that most intellectual and creative people are autistic to some degree. Maybe that’s true, but I’m not entirely sure about that just yet.

  2. Does it really matter? We strive to understand and label because we don’t and cannot simply accept. The man was a genius with paint. You have only to stand in front of one of his paintings and see the sheer exuberance of the marks made by brush and finger to feel the energy he was trying to convey… and it usually leaves me with tears streaming.

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