The Healing Power of Beyond Van Gogh

This year I’ve been feeling stuck and in the process of reinventing myself, I’ve found that I’ve been stuck on a loop. And then, when I wasn’t buffering I tried new ideas with flares of passion that felt quickly snuffed out. I needed something bigger than me to remind me that I can persevere and find my way. Not a motivational podcast episode or opening my business plan doc to add needed changes. I needed inspiration that reignited my belief in the altar of creativity and I found that in Van Gogh.

I actually wasn’t planning on doing anything over the weekend except working, but I got a last minute offer to go see Beyond Van Gogh. I’d heard about it and seen commercials for it, but with my schedule it seemed like I didn’t have time to squeeze it in. But, I knew that the show might not come back in town and I certainly wasn’t going to make time in my schedule in the future, so why not sacrifice today?

As I was driving over, I thought about the painting Starry Night, which I’d seen at the MET a few years prior. I was so fascinated because for such a famous painting, it was so approachable. I mean, not literally as there was a security guard that made sure we couldn’t get within 10 feet of the piece. It felt familiar because the canvas was the size of a canvas I built for my oil painting class in which I created a copy of the Spanish Ballet. He was an artist, just like me. It hit me that this painting was something that Van Gogh literally touched. Not a print, not a poster, but the actually canvas with the actual strokes carried around by the man himself. I wondered how Beyond Van Gogh could build on the real works and connect the audience to him.

Starry Night at the MET

Upon walking in, you are greeted with an array of screens filled with text that detail Van Gogh’s life and his struggle to make his art monetarily successful. Each panel of text laid on top of a background of detail shots of Van Gogh’s paintings. Thick, saturated strokes of color that were so enlarged that you couldn’t decipher the subject of the painting, but could only say that Van Gogh loved color. In between each row of text, was a row of empty golden frames of varying sizes. Was it about trying to figure out what could have filled his frames of life or what could fill my own? The story of his life showed how he tried different careers and didn’t find satisfaction nor success, the tale of him giving into his artistry, how he drew inspiration from the countryside and nature, and his desire to ultimately connect.

Immediately following the story of his life, you enter a larger room encapsulated in blackness, but you are soon greeted with magic as something that can only be described as a glittery river pours down from the walls and onto the floor over your feet. Bright, rich animated lines and fields of color integrate with Van Gogh himself as his self-portrait hovers amongst the dancing colors. This immediately made me think of my college project entitled Microcosm, where I created an animated background that I projected onto the wall for a solo dance project. This was such a drastic improvement on my project and I was already wondering how they were able to achieve something so beautiful and engaging. But, that was only the beginning.

The animated demonstration in that first dark room was on a cycle and once I saw the same sequence repeating, I knew it was time to move onto the next room. This next room was about the size of a ballroom and I was immediately surrounded by falling flower petals. From ceiling to floor, everyone in this ballroom sized exhibition was covered in the projections of Van Gogh’s work with flower petals flying around us and over our skin. Complete with narration, we all watched the story of Van Gogh’s life through his work and the engineers behind the show brought his work to life, literally. Starry Night Over the Rhone became a boat ride where you felt the water undulate underneath your feet and you saw the streamflow move in a rhythm around you. Each of his portraits looked around the room observing us, smiling and blinking. Even his own written words were scrawled over us and around us.

I was enraptured and almost wanted to just stay there in his world, a world that may have looked small to others, but was larger than anyone else could have imagined. The extents of his imagination and visualization through art were encapsulating. Towards the end of the exhibition, there was a moment where detailed rectangles and squares appeared, collaging the floor and walls, where each one was filled by his name. It was as if we were watching him sign his name in real time all around the room. It reminded me that no matter the hardship or the fact that he sold one painting during his life, he mattered and his world mattered. It reminded me that I mattered.

Talk about serendipity! This year, I’ve been struggling with issues of self worth and just wondering if I’ve been doing the right things with my work for Ebony Xscape. This experience was like a way of Van Gogh speaking to me even from death to say that I am doing the right work and that struggle knows no discrimination. He said the importance is to not “snuff out your inspiration and power of imagination, don’t become a slave to the model; and the other, take a model and study it, for otherwise your inspiration won’t take on material form.” He asked who he was “in the eyes of most people? A nonentity or an oddity or a disagreeable person – someone who has and will have no position in the society…Very well-assuming that everything is indeed like that, then through my work I’d like to show what there is in the heart of such an oddity, such a nobody.” In short you nor I should let our discouragements or the projections of other people determine our journey. It doesn’t matter if no one’s paying attention to you. Isn’t that a place of more freedom where you can indulge in more risks to pursue the bigger plan? We can rest, but we must get back up and pursue our journeys and we’ll figure the rest out with time, while accepting our joy and satisfaction with the fact that we are living and that we are living for ourselves. “But what’s our ultimate goal, you’ll say. That goal will become clearer, will take shape slowly and surely, as the croquis becomes a sketch and the sketch a painting[…].”

You’re doing fine, just continue to chisel away at your ideas as well as seek inspiration and you will watch your quality life and work transform. What have you done recently that has gotten you fired up and inspired?

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