Compare and contrast Olive Trees with Yellow Sun and Sky by Vincent Van Gogh and Deforestation by Sandra Scheetz-Wise.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Despite their differences, both these pieces are landscapes that show a distorted world—a projection of the artist's own troubled thoughts, which are unique and yet have universal implications.

The basic elements in any landscape are generally earth, vegetation, and sky. Scheetz-Wise adds a strange form of human beings to the composition. The simplest description of these figures is that they are androids or mutants holding aloft naked tree branches. Some of these humanoids lie dead on the ground. In the place of the sun or ordinary clouds, there are two oval-shaped black masses in the sky. This is essentially a dead world we are shown.

It's not difficult to see the symbolism in this. These techno-figures or mutations probably represent humanity which, in their "advancement," have deforested the world and, as is evidenced by the dead ones, are in the process of destroying themselves as well. Are the stripped branches held aloft trophies of the killing off of the vegetable world, or are they ironic, celebratory remnants of it? In the background on the naked earth we see the survivors of the sea world: dolphins improbably leaping on land, divested of their natural habitat.

Though we can be fairly sure that in 1889, Van Gogh, unlike Scheetz-Wise in her landscape, was not predicting the destruction of the environment through technology and climate change, the world he shows us in Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun is eerily similar to that of Deforestation. Van Gogh's landscape has a desiccated look, despite the blooming trees, which are disfigured in some way; their trunks and branches seem to wriggle in an angular fashion as if they are a withering remnant of life rather than a flourishing example of it. The visible roots that extend are like huge tentacles desperately grasping deep into the bare earth. The sun and the rings of light emanating from it are artificial, like a perfected metamorphosis of nature and of the actual sun and its life-giving rays. Altogether, it's a picture of nature transmuted into something else by human emotion. There is a (perhaps) beneficent but somehow alien quality to it: a representation not of reality but of a man's inner feeling compounded of torment and, ironically, a desperately hopeful (the oxymoron is appropriate) desire for the old world of nature which the artist, in his inner world, has lost touch with.

It's possible to see Van Gogh's form of expression as a non-technical anticipation of a new, "radioactive" world of science that will end up destroying nature, as seen in the landscape of Scheetz-Wise. Both artists use color and design in their own personal ways, which on the surface are quite different; but the chief elements in common are those of a modernist projection of the artist's inner feeling onto canvas as a replacement of straightforward representation. The real world, in both pieces, has, in effect, been superseded through a new and disturbing re-creation by human thought and human works.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial