You Must Go to the Immersive Van Gogh

Chances are you’ve gotten an earful of lore about Van Gogh, even if you’re not an art lover. But you’ve never experienced an exhibition of this nature, in which you are merged at once with the mind, skill set, and perspective of an artist in such a multi-sensory fashion.

Miriam and I saw Vincent in Scottsdale yesterday, and we highly recommend that you seek out the experience in a city near you. It is now open in 20 major cities, ranging from Chicago to San Antonio. The downloadable app provides you with much of what you need to know in a nutshell, and I’ll relate some of that essence here.

From his vibrant sunflowers to his moody landscapes,Van Gogh’s art has become iconic. It’s hard to believe that, during his lifetime, Van Gogh’s art was not appreciated. He has, in fact, become the art world’s archetype of the ‘misunderstood genius’. Such is the lot of many artists, in contrast to inventors like Edison or scientists like Einstein whose genius is well-recognized in their lifetimes,

At the age of 11, Van Gogh was sent to a boarding school. Later in life, he recalled the experience of his parents leaving him behind as they drove off in a yellow carriage, and yellow would come to represent ever-elusive happiness in his paintings. At the age of 16, Van Gogh was sent to apprentice with his uncle, a very successful art dealer. Eventually his younger brother Theo would join the same company, but in a different city. Van Gogh was overjoyed by this, and started a correspondence with his brother that would eventually comprise more than 800 letters – letters that to this day offer scintillating insights into Van Gogh’s art and psyche. Those letters are mounted in a hallway outside the entrance to the immersive exhibit.

His work for the art dealership took him to many new places. At the age of 19, Van Gogh was based in London. Although he initially enjoyed what the English capitol had to offer, he soon became disillusioned with the commercialization of art. He was more interested in the art itself than the monetary value attached to it – a common theme among artists often to the chagrin of a spouse or accountant. This, combined with a rejected marriage proposal, inspired Van Gogh to turn to religion, and at the age of 23, Van Gogh decided to give up everything and become a missionary, following in the footsteps of his ministerial father.

By the age of 27 however, Van Gogh decided to leave his missionary behind and head to Brussels, his mind now set on becoming an artist. Here he enrolled at the Academy of Arts, where lecturers questioned his skills and future as an artist as he had not mastered even the most basic of techniques. He left the academy and became essentially self-taught, drawing and redrawing works of artists he admired. The restless Vincent traipsed through a series of failed relationships and alliances, moving from the Hague to Antwerp where absinthe would become his muse, and syphilis from brothels bad news. At the time this was a terminal diagnosis, and his painting, Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette was most likely a shout of defiance against the dying of the light.

It was at the time of that painting in 1886, at age 33, that Vincent packed up and moved to Paris where his brother Theo, an art dealer would provide valuable connections. Two years later he set out to explore the South of France, stumbling upon Arles on his journey south. Determined that this would be the perfect haven he wrote letters to artists he admired to join him. The only one to take him up on his offer was Paul Gauguin. In October of 1888, Gauguin joined Vincent in Arles sharing a small home and devoting themselves to painting. They flourished together briefly, but Van Gogh started drinking copious amounts of absinthe again, which would lead to intense psychotic episodes. This resulted in the infamous ear incident, afrer which Vincent voluntarily committed himself to an asylum. Between his bouts of self-destruction, however, Vincent was painting as if possessed. He hoped painting would save him from himself, and threw himself into his work. Starry Night (1889) is one of the many masterpieces he would paint while committed.

In May of 1890 at the age of 37, Vincent was released from the asylum and returned to live with Theo. Shortly thereafter he committed suicide, shooting himself in the stomach. He would leave behind numerous paintings that Theo distributed to his friends as keepsakes. The paintings were seen as having no value, simply reminders of a slightly mad artist. Vincent’s art was rediscovered by critics and collectors in the 1920s, and 30 years after his death he started to garner critical acclaim. From the age of 27 to 37, he painted more than 800 paintings, and only sold one. Today his paintings are listed among the most expensive in the world. As his renown as an artist grew, so too has our fascination with the man behind the art – a complex visionary ahead of his time.

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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2 Responses to You Must Go to the Immersive Van Gogh

  1. doctuhdon says:

    Magnificent post; beautifully written!

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