Long ago, a little girl in Catholic grade school, I was introduced to art appreciation once a month on Friday afternoons. Each child received a five-by-seven-inch print on cardstock of either a painting or a sculpture with a short description on the reverse side. I can still smell the fresh ink on those cards and how thrilled I was to be given these precious little gifts. The art teacher pointed out obvious highlights and nuanced features, instructing us on how to “see” a work of art. After the presentation, we were told to put our heads down on our desks, be perfectly still, and imagine ourselves inside the artwork. After about ten minutes, we were asked to write a short paragraph on what we thought the artist was trying to convey.
The day we were given Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night” was a turning point. I knew nothing about the artist’s tortured life but thought he might be a child, like me, whose parents had allowed him to go crazy with paints. When I placed the print on the desk for our time of meditation, I kept my eyes open and felt like I was in the painting, walking through turbulent indigo, under a comet-filled sky.
Like so many people, I fell in love that day with Vincent Van Gogh and even more with our Creator who gifted him with these celestial visions. Our paths crossed many times over the years, in gardens of irises and daffodils, in fields of wheat, under wild trees and cherry blossoms, on Paris street corners, in self-portraits and faces of ordinary people. In the 1970s, when the song “Vincent” (by Don McLean) hit the pop charts, I played it about a million times and cried every time, thinking of Vincent’s despair which culminated in death by his own hand. “Now, I think I know what you tried to say to me, How you suffered for your sanity, How you tried to set them free. . .“
Several weeks ago, I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience with my three daughters, their Christmas gift to me. This craze has been sweeping the country for the past year so undoubtedly many of you have also attended.
We entered a huge, dark warehouse hidden in the back of the Del Mar fairgrounds. After strolling through a gallery of information about Van Gogh’s life, the inner sanctum appeared. I almost took off my shoes for this seemed more like a temple than an exhibition hall. Despite being with my family and many strangers, I felt suddenly alone as mood-altering music began and Van Gogh’s paintings lavishly appeared on the walls, ceilings, and floors, like ocean waves of spilled paint, until we were immersed inside his voluminous life’s work.
On the black surroundings, handwritten quotes appeared slowly at first, then the colors, flowers, trees, faces, places, and the very soul of Vincent Van Gogh were splashed on every corner of the immensity. At one point, a young woman danced, couples embraced, some took selfies, many were intent upon recording the experience on their phones as if they could not bear so much stimulation.
I sat as still as a statue on the edge of a wooden bench, drinking in the colors, feelings, hundreds of paintings, both familiar and foreign, utterly inebriated with beauty and wonder. Caught up in the embrace of the Beloved, free from time and space, an intimate moment of “oneing,” written about by great mystical lovers, poured into my soul. I took a “long, loving look at the Real,” that night, my favorite definition of contemplative prayer. My heart silently cried out, “My Lord and my God!” after this consecrated moment, now forever etched into my memory.
On the ride home, we discussed what Van Gogh might think of the immersive experience. I do not know, of course, but I felt his personal, passionate, presence streaming through the confines of time and space and modern technology, inspiring generations to fall on their knees in wonder and adoration. What better legacy of love is there?
One thought on “Voluminous Van Gogh”
“…My favorite definition of contemplative prayer…” I love that and I can relate. What an awesome reflection of your interior artwork of the heart, then to experience some modern day digital type art exhibit is incredible. You described so beautifully the movement of art in your life and the power it has to transform you through meditation. I strive to keep creating interior time with God and with art and with music and with images, nature, as we journey together on this spiritual life here on earth. Legacy of love!!!!