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Starry Night’s Relevance in the 21st Century

  • Post category:Culture

"If you truly love nature, you will find beauty anywhere"

-Vincent Van Gogh

Written by Sadie Kimbrough
Edited by: Ben Hurst

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” sits at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, collecting dust and value by the second. The $100 million painting depicts a French countryside, lustrous stars draped across the sky. Nowadays, we can only dream of such a starry night, as light pollution worsens with each day. Armed security guards, hefty fines, and prison sentences protect Van Gogh’s masterpiece. Yet we do not hold these same standards when it comes to the real night sky, the real starry night. It’s one thing to preserve a work of art, it’s another to preserve what it represents.

When the sun goes down, a delicate radiance still clings to the night sky, a phenomenon known as skyglow. This luminance is due to the pollution of artificial light sources, prominent especially in urban areas. Not only does skyglow prevent us from starry nights, it also profoundly impacts the continuation of many species and ecosystems. Many organisms, from plankton to human beings, are highly dependent on the cycle of light days and dark nights. Biodiversity and conservation specialist Kevin Gaston claims that the current level of skyglow surpasses the thresholds to trigger various biological responses of wild animals, such as sleeping patterns and metabolic changes, which can greatly negatively impact their health (Irwin). Environmental issues are extremely multifaceted. Skyglow alone disturbs sleeping patterns, night vision, our view of the night sky, as well as entire ecosystems. Artificial lighting in the United States pumps 14.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year at a cost of about $2 billion dollars (FAU). Climate change is both ethically and financially detrimental not just to governments and corporations but to every organism on the planet.

As a publication, we are completely reliant on our community., We at Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine have seen how art can truly unite people of all backgrounds, colors, and creeds. Environmentalism does just the same: it is a cause that affects all walks of life, often disproportionately so. Climate activist Xiye Bastida describes the environmental crisis as the “biggest opportunity for unity and striving for a better world for all of us” (PBS). When we organize, march, and clean up our communities, we see real, substantial change.

While it’s not been proven, I’d like to think that Van Gogh once said “if you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere”. Obviously he found the beauty in his surroundings, whether it be a wheatfield or a bouquet of sunflowers. Though we do not experience the same all-encompassing nature of the 19th century French countryside, it is still possible to find beauty in our post-industrial world. We must find and preserve it together if we wish to see another starry night.