Van Gogh and Mrs Wall

Sep 20, 2018 Thoughts

Van Gogh and Mrs Wall

Van Gogh and Mrs Wall

Recently I had a weekend away in Cardiff. I love Cardiff as a city it’s full of life and lots of little stories about its past. It’s a city where the architecture and skyline really shows off the juxtaposition between its history and its present/ future. From our apartment window we could see the white steel skeleton structure of the principality stadium and then Just beyond the old stone walls of the castle. It makes for a nice contrast and is something that is lacking in other cities.
But the architecture of the city isn’t what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about a painting in the museum and my year 3 art education.
In the Cardiff museum is an art gallery. And in that art gallery is a painting by Van Gogh. Specifically this painting. ‘Rain – Auvers – GOGH, Vincent van (1853 – 1890)’



I’ve obviously seen prints and images of Van Gogh‘s work before and am in no way an art expert or critic. But I’ve never seen an original until that point. It was interesting and cool. And made me think a couple things.

The first was ‘is this an original or a copy?’ I checked the information plaque and it didn’t say it was a copy and then got close to the painting (which was behind thick glass) and I could see the peaks and troughs of the paint from when it was done.

The second was ‘OMG how expensive is this painting?’ I googled it and it’s somewhere between $11million and $66million. I think this somehow adds to the experience of seeing it and makes it more special than just seeing a print. If for no other reason than you stop and properly look at the painting because if it’s worth that much money, there has to be something in it.

And the third was ‘this is what Mrs Wall was talking about when I was in year 3.’

Mrs Wall was my year 3 primary school teacher. One afternoon she taught us art. This is when I first learned about Vincent Van Gogh and his paintings. Mrs Wall explained how he wasn’t just tying to paint a picture he was trying to convey some kind of emotion in his work. And that this was evident in the brush strokes that you could see on the painting. We then had a go at trying this ourselves which was an incredibly brave and messy thing to suggest to a group of 6 year olds.

I didn’t really understand it at the time but the idea of conveying emotion through art stuck with me. And so that’s what I thought of when I saw the painting in real life.

I’m not that big on art and so this was the first time I’d ever seen this particular painting ever. It was a landscape and fairly colourful but still sad some how. The rain that’s pouring down is a blue grey which adds to the sadness I guess but it’s not like obscuring the landscape really. There’s a single bird in the painting which I guess symbolises loneliness or something. After all this was one of the last paintings Van Gogh did before his suicide in 1890.

What I find interesting about Van Gogh’s work. Is the idea that he could convey emotion very easily. The fact that he is famous for his tragic life also adds context to his work and makes it a bit easier to ascertain some form of meaning from his painting. Although didn’t know about his suicide back when I was 7 and still was able to see there was something deeper in his paintings than just a pretty picture.

Now although this is nice and the reason he is a popular artist you might think it has little to do with design. But conveying emotion through design is exactly what we as designers are trying to do.
We are always trying to suggest things to the user and in certain designs trying to generate some kind of emotional response. Usually some kind of happiness.

Through design we are trying to convey that a product is high quality, or easy to use, or matches the users personality in some way. But we are trying to convey this without outright saying it. I think this is the same thing that Van Gogh is doing with the rain and lone crow in the painting.

I recently read a case study from a designer who worked on an Uber re-design back in 2016. Their whole goal was to recapture the magic of using Uber that had been lost. Through design they needed to convey that Uber was doing all the hard work (finding a car, knowing their location etc) for user. And they needed to make the user trust the app to do that. The redesign was all about communicating an idea to the user. Check out the full run down here –

Although I’m still starting out on my User Experience design career I hope to be as good at conveying emotion through design as Van Gogh is, but I’d like to keep both my ears.