This past weekend my wife and I headed out to Atlanta to see the Van Hogh Immersive Experience. Prior to going, I could say that I might have known a couple of his paintings (Stary Night obviously being the big one) and maybe knew two things about him (he died young and cut off his ear for some reason). So you could say this was definitely something we were both walking into a bit blind.
The first portion of the exhibit showed many of his paintings along with information about what inspiration he might have drawn from when he was painting. And while the paintings themselves varied from the more mundane subjects (bedrooms and flowers and the countryside), it was still an amazing accomplishment (a true feat of brilliance by one man). Here was someone who did the majority of his oil paintings and artwork in the final two years of his life. To have a creative output of that level is beyond my understanding, but I could definitely appreciate everything I saw and read about a man who seemed to be so troubled by his own brain that perhaps through his painting he was exorcising the demons within himself?
The main portion is in a very large room where his works are projected on all four walls and the floor. The move to music, telling a story of a man’s passion for capturing the beauty he saw within the world. The images move and flow, they warp and change from darkness to light, from self-portraits to a wheatfield where a murder of crows fly into the night. The music they chose to accompany it is remorseful at times before morphing to match the images we can see.
This is the Immersive Experience. To be able to live within his works, even if only for a little bit of time. To be able to peer inside his head in order to gain a small understanding of what he was trying to say to the rest of the world. Sitting there on the floor with my back against the wall, the rest of the world was only what Van Gogh chose to paint. Reality was a series of short and long brush strokes. Life was a collage of images drawn by someone who had no choice but to bear his soul on the canvas.
Finally, we had a VR experience where we could see the world around him for ourselves. They had a digital recreation with frames suspended in the air where the painting would take shape. The idea that perhaps, for a second, we might be able to see the beauty he saw in the world and understand why he was moved to paint it.
Yet, as we left the rooms and ventured back to our own reality, the thing that resonated with me the most wasn’t the paintings. Instead it was the various quotes they had from his numerous letters which struck home with me. He wrote so many letters where he bared his soul in a different way than he could do in his art. Those words hit me in a way I wouldn’t have expected. There was clarity to each thought.
Sometimes because it was a beautiful thought:
“There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”
“There is peace even in the storm.”
“I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.”
“Art is to console those who are broken by life.”
However, two stood out and really hit home. The first because I’ve recently begun to resurrect a project about Dreams so it felt as if Van Gogh was talking about it directly:
“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”
And the second because it is something that I need to remember whenever doubt enters into my mind, for it is a singular truth like no other:
Choose to push through the doubts, the adversity, the days when you don’t want to do anything, the days when you can’t do anything, the days where the blankness of the page is so intimidating that you nearly cry…
“… then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
Silence the doubts.
John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.
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