Inspired by light

Light inspires art

The timeless influence of light for writers, musicians and artists

Light has acted as a vital source of inspiration for creative minds throughout the centuries: from the sublime imagery of the sun rising, to the temptation of giving in to our dark side. We look at some examples of paintings, poems, pieces of music and modern art installations – how many do you know?

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh

The Dutch post-impressionist painter reportedly described the night as being more alive and beautiful than the day. Hanging in New York’s Museum of Modern Art since 1941, this particular image is one of the most well-known paintings in the world. However, despite its present-day public profile, the image was once much more private: It depicts the view from van Gogh’s asylum bedroom (minus the bars).

The Sun, Edvard Munch

Think of Edvard Munch and you probably think of his agonized figure in his painting “The Scream.” And yet there are many other masterpieces in his repertoire. This modern mural of an immense, dominant sun, for example, which is less tortured but still somehow intimidating and hypnotic. The powerful sun’s rays illuminate the ocean and shed their light over a Norwegian landscape.

Norham Castle Sunrise, Joseph Mallord William Turner

JMW Turner, a British Romanticist landscape painter, often christened “the painter of light”, transferred images of translucent, shimmering light on to canvas. This painting depicts the blazing light of dawn over a castle in the county of Northumberland, England. It is one of Turner’s greatest paintings of light and atmosphere. To Turner, the sun represented God’s spirit. His last words were said to be “The Sun is God.”

Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven


Nearly two hundred years after it was composed, this remains one of the most listened to pieces of classical music. It is mournful, intense and meditative, and can’t fail but capture the listener’s imagination. The piece was given its name after German poet Ludwig Rellstab said the first movement reminded him of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne. Legend has it that Beethoven was in fact first inspired to write the music while visiting a lake in Hungary.

Here Comes the Sun, The Beatles

Humming the tune already? This classic was written by George Harrison for the Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road. Harrison reportedly penned the lyrics while sitting in Eric Clapton’s garden and taking in the spring sunshine after a long, dreary British winter filled with meetings and hard work.

Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

Most CD collections include a copy of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. One of the best-selling albums of all time (staying on the Billboard charts for a consecutive 741 weeks), the English rockers wanted to explore man’s dark side. The darkness depicted is supposed to represent insanity.

Alpine Symphony, Richard Strauss

Listen to this musical extravaganza and you can climb a mountain without ever getting up from the sofa. This German composer musically depicts a hike in the Alps. The music portrays the pre-dawn darkness before moving to a sky that brightens. We are then rewarded with sounds showing the sun exploding over the mountain in a huge crescendo complete with a rolling bass drum and crashing cymbals.

Sunrise in the mountains

Sunsets, Victor Hugo

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise,” the French Romantic poet, novelist and dramatist famously wrote in his novel Les Miserables. According to his wife, Victor Hugo was inspired to write Sunsets – a set of six poems – after watching the sun setting over Paris with his friends.

The Cloud, Caitlind r.c. Brown + Wayne Garrett

These two contemporary artists from Calgary explore the social effects of light. Working with recycled materials, they are best known for their CLOUD sculptures constructed from thousands of incandescent light bulbs and pull chain switches. The artists have been reported as saying that they are “seduced by the inherent beauty of luminous objects” as “light produces safety, clarity and evidence of civilization.”

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