Van Gogh’s ugliest masterpiece

7 minutes

Gradations

2 minutes

Last acre

12 minutes

The wolf dividing Norway

29 minutes

The evolution of cynicism

5 minutes

Ugly on purpose: the intentionally drab desperation of Van Gogh’s ‘The Night Café’

One of the techniques for which Vincent van Gogh is celebrated is his evocative and striking use of colour contrast. In many of his most famous works – including Café Terrace at Night (1888), The Starry Night (1889) and Irises (1889) – his palette is soothing and inviting, yielding scenes destined to hang, for generations to come, on the walls of dorm rooms and doctors’ offices. However, this video essay from Evan Puschak (also known as the Nerdwriter) finds genius in the drab hues of Van Gogh’s somewhat lesser-known work The Night Café (1888) – a painting that was, by the artist’s own admission, ‘one of the ugliest I’ve done’. Probing Van Gogh’s personal letters and acute understanding of colour theory, Puschak examines how the painter deployed clashing, desolate greens and reds in the work ‘to express the terrible passions of humanity’.

Video by The Nerdwriter

Delight as the hard-edged world melts into a full-rainbow spectrum of reality

Created by the Japanese director and designer Daihei Shibata for the Japanese educational TV programme Design Ah, the short video Gradations relishes in the blurring and stretching of visual borders. With a Zenned-out soundtrack augmenting the pleasing imagery, the short serves up a series of brief sequences in which commonplace visuals – from city lights to coffee and milk – shift from binary to an increasingly gradated spectrum. Beyond its oddly satisfying effect, the piece suggests hidden worlds of complexity even in the most mundane places. For more design wizardry from Shibata, watch Unendurable Line.

Via The Kid Should See This

Director: Daihei Shibata

A world of shacks and shanties is a place of makeshift beauty on England’s margins

At the beginning of the 20th century, a number of impoverished Britons set out in search of their own Arcadia. They found it, for a time, in poorly developed strips of land that had been neglected or abandoned by others. This cheap or sometimes even free land gave these pioneers a place to build their own humble shacks out of old bits of wood and boat, creating utopias that came to be called ‘Plotlands’. Life in the Plotlands continues still, and is precarious, improvised and marginal – yet full of rugged beauty. The UK filmmakers Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan capture that makeshift, unconventional beauty in this short documentary, set to Peter Warlock’s inimitable composition The Curlew (1920-22) and filmed on the salt marshes of Lowsy Point near Barrow-in-Furness in northwest England.

Directors: Jacob Cartwright, Nick Jordan

Narrator: Judy May

The divisive debate over hunting Norway’s endangered wolves

During the 1960s, wolves nearly vanished from Norway’s landscape due to overhunting; now, there are no more than 70 wolves left in the country. Although the wild predators – known to prey on farmers’ livestock – received protection under law in 1971, the debate between hunters and conservationists over the fate of the remaining endangered population has been heated and divisive ever since. The Wolf Dividing Norway shows how this debate culminates in December 2019, as groups on both sides of the conflict wait to hear whether the government will authorise the annual winter wolf hunt. With unprecedented access to remote communities at the heart of the debate, the Norwegian documentary filmmaker Kyrre Lien humanises the frustration coming from both sides, providing a sensitive look at one of Norway’s most polarising topics.

Director: Kyrre Lien

Cynicism was born when Diogenes rejected materialism and manners

Plato once described the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope as ‘a Socrates gone mad!’ It’s a good comparison. Like Socrates, Diogenes gave the bird to respectable society. He undermined status and manners in the 4th century BCE with his bottomless reserve of shamelessness and irreverence, opting to live on the streets like a stray dog. But, of course, there was a method to his madness. In this short video by TED-Ed, the Irish philosopher William D Desmond explains how Diogenes lived an authentic and ascetic life in accordance with nature, and how in doing so he founded the philosophy of cynicism – an iconoclastic tradition that continues to illuminate and infuriate today.

Video by TED-Ed

Director: Avi Ofer

Writer: William D Desmond

Ugly on purpose: the intentionally drab desperation of Van Gogh’s ‘The Night Café’

One of the techniques for which Vincent van Gogh is celebrated is his evocative and striking use of colour contrast. In many of his most famous works – including Café Terrace at Night (1888), The Starry Night (1889) and Irises (1889) – his palette is soothing and inviting, yielding scenes destined to hang, for generations to come, on the walls of dorm rooms and doctors’ offices. However, this video essay from Evan Puschak (also known as the Nerdwriter) finds genius in the drab hues of Van Gogh’s somewhat lesser-known work The Night Café (1888) – a painting that was, by the artist’s own admission, ‘one of the ugliest I’ve done’. Probing Van Gogh’s personal letters and acute understanding of colour theory, Puschak examines how the painter deployed clashing, desolate greens and reds in the work ‘to express the terrible passions of humanity’.

Video by The Nerdwriter

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Elizabeth I of England (c1588), artist unknown. One of three known as the Armada portraits and on display in Woburn Abbey. Courtesy Wikipedia

Essay/
Cognition and intelligence
How to be a genius

I travelled the world and trawled the archive to unearth the hidden lessons from history’s most brilliant people

Craig Wright

Emerging towards 241 18th Street (centre), home to Amazon’s new HQ2 in Crystal City, Virginia. Photo by Dermot Tatlow/Panos Pictures

Essay/
Technology and the self
The problem with prediction

Cognitive scientists and corporations alike see human minds as predictive machines. Right or wrong, they will change how we think

Joseph Fridman