Theories in Horn Players vs. Starry Night Paintings

The availability of art in various forms has been instrumental in the evolution of diverse activities in society. If words cannot represent what people feel, paintings, photography, and sculptures can be used to express thoughts and emotions. Creating awareness on political and social issues is one common application of works of art evident in the modern era. However, to appreciate a piece of art, it is necessary to understand its background, context, and intentions of the artist. Evaluation of art helps the audience discover the thoughts of the artist when the work was created and its possible connection to contemporary issues. Consequently, evaluating the two pieces of art, Horn Players and Starry Night comparatively, will help identify and explain terms and theories used in studying paintings.

Horn Players is a painting created in 1983 by Jean-Michael Basquiat, an American artist who was known for his neo-expressionist works in the 1980s. The dimensions of the portrait are 243.8 by 190.5 cm or 96 by 75 inches in terms of height and length, respectively (Basquiat). The artist used oil sticks and acrylic as mediums on three different canvas on wood to offer support. The three half-length panels joined together include numerous words and drawings, some of which are crossed out deliberately by Jean-Michael. Furthermore, there are noticeable paths of white paint, which appear to cover the drawings and spotlight the black background. There are also words such as “ALCHEMY,” “TEETH,” “PREE,” and “ORNITHOLOGY” that have been scattered all over the panels.

Starry Night is a work of art created in 1889 by Vincent van Gogh. The artist was a Dutch painter in the post-impressionist era and a significant contributor to ancient Western art. The dimensions of Starry Night are 73.7 by 92.1 cm, which means the piece of art is smaller in size compared to Horn Players (Gogh). The medium used for the painting is oil, supported on a canvas and framed. Additionally, Starry Night is currently located in New York and in possession of the Museum of Modern Art. The art shows a brimming night sky characterized by shining stars, swiveling winds, and a glowing crescent moon. Vincent van Gogh selected the right combination of colors to depict a shimmering night.

Horn Players and Starry Night have some similarities and a number of differences which can best be explained by artistic terms. The first similarity between the two artworks is the use of straight lines to define objects within the paintings. A line is an element of art described as a mark with a great length compared to its width (Frank 81). The various types of lines include vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved, and straight. Jean-Michael has used the lines dominantly in the writings and in drawing the two individuals and the musical instruments they are holding. Vincent van Gogh also used straight lines in drawing the houses and shading their roofs.

The other similarity is portrayed in the shapes used by both artists. A shape is a collection of lines closed together and can be geometric in the form of circles, squares, or natural. While the rectangular shape has been used to define borders of the texts in Horn Players, it has been utilized to draw the houses in Starry Night. The paintings have the same forms, which are three-dimensional shapes, both using boxes (Frank 84). In Jean-Michael’s painting, there is a box on the left panel of the artwork labeled soap, while in Gogh’s case, the boxes have been incorporated to paint the houses. Both artists have employed shapes and lines to draw distinct features in the paintings.

Aside from the similarities, there is a number of noticeable differences between Starry Night and Horn Players. The first major difference is in the use of space to create illusions and pass the message of the art. The shape is one of the art elements which represents the areas between components of a painting (Frank 86). For instance, in Horn Players, negative space has been used around the musicians to create their images. Similarly, Starry Night utilizes empty spaces between the painted houses and trees to create a clear distinction of the objects. Second, both images exhibit unity, which is the visual relationship between items of the painting. Gogh has used the blue and yellow colors to paint the skies, while Jean-Michael has used writings to pass the intended messages.

Another distinction is contrast, a characteristic created by using such contrasting elements as light and dark. In Horn Players, the background color is black, while the foreground is dominated by white writings and strokes of white paint. Similarly, in Starry Night, blue is the background color painting the sky, while the darker colors of brown and black have been used to paint the visible thicket and the tiny houses. The final similarity is in the use of patterns to represent the regular design of different objects (Frank 85). Gogh has used the same lines and rectangular shapes to paint several houses that look alike. Jean-Michael has repeated words such as “ALCHEMY” in his painting to demonstrate the pattern. Even though the messages passed by the artists are different, there are similarities in the use of elements and design.

Art criticism is a significant part of evaluating art which can help assess the historical significance of the two pieces. The contextual theory is an approach to critiquing a work of art which looks at the various cultural aspects behind its creation (Frank 90). Horn Players is based on an African-American culture, which is the background of the artist. Jean-Michael’s painting is a tribute to the greatest black jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who are drawn on the portraits in the extreme left and right. In turn, the expressive theory focuses on the artist’s expression of their personality (Frank 90). Vincent van Gogh was from a religious background and therefore used the bright stars and moon to shine over the dark landscape to show feelings of hope in a demoralized world. Both artworks are a representation of the occurrences during the artists’ eras.


Basquiat, Jean-Michael. Horn Players. 1983. Jean-Michael Basquiat. Web.

Frank, Patrick. Prebles’ Artforms. 12th ed., Pearson, 2019.

Gogh, Vincent. Starry Night. 1889. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. MoMA Learning. Web.

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