Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Stormy Starry Night
Did Vincent van Gogh have a deep intuition for the forms of turbulence? That's what has been suggested by a recent mathematical analysis of the structure of his paintings. It seems that these display the statistical fingerprint of genuine turbulence – but only when the artist was feeling particularly turbulent himself. Well, maybe – I think that conclusion will have to await a more comprehensive analysis of the paintings. All the same, it is striking that other artists noted for their apparently turbulent canvases, such as Turner and Munch, don't seem to capture this same statistical signature in the correlations between patches of light and shade (I've received an analysis of Turner's stormy Mouth of the Seine, which confirms that this is so). Did van Gogh, then, achieve what Leonardo strove towards in his depictions of flowing water? I'll explore this further in my forthcoming new version of my 1999 book on pattern formation, The Self-Made Tapestry.