An immersive experience of wonder with Vincent Van Gogh
May 07, 2023
Starry night


What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Let me state this upfront – I am not an art connoisseur. As a child, I hated drawing and later when I pursued higher education in a scientific field, and had no access or reason to study visual art as a requirement of my curriculum, I was pleased. 

Yet there were times when I would feel a pang when I saw something beautiful, in nature or in a painting or photograph. Although I could not comment on the composition or technique or the use of light and brush strokes, I could tell when I was arrested by some unique quality of an artist’s creation. 

Just as I stop to appreciate a deep insight or a lyrical sentence when I am reading, I do appreciate art. The reason I don’t write much about it is because I do not have the vocabulary for it.

There’s something about Van Gogh

Despite my ignorance of art and artists, I have been strangely drawn to Van Gogh. Over the years, I have been to several museums featuring his works, including Musee D’Orsay in Paris, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. While I don’t remember much of what I saw there, I do remember being mesmerized by Van Gogh’s colorful depiction of Sunflowers and other colorful flowers in vases and fields of irises. Starry Night of course remains my favorite, an emblem of Van Gogh’s brilliance.

Not surprisingly, when the immersive exhibit in Sentosa was announced I booked my tickets and eagerly awaited the day of my visit. And it was an unforgettable experience.

Given the advances in technology, there are so many ways to make art accessible and interesting to the masses. And this exhibit used many techniques. Beginning with a range of self-portraits, some of which had the artist blinking his eyes (to my shock and delight), we entered room after room showcasing a large number of Van Gogh’s most popular paintings.

From static panels of his paintings and brief descriptions of his life story, to a special area where sunflowers flowed all over and around you to a space where a continuously changing screen showed all of the flowers that he had painted over a three-dimensional installation of a vase which served as a base, and much more, there was so much to appreciate and admire.

Through interesting quotes and excerpts from letters written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, it was possible to piece together the short, tragic life of this prolific artist who began painting in earnest at age 30 but killed himself at 37. While he was not able to enjoy the fruits of his brilliance during his lifetime, he is among the best known artists in the world today.   

A short movie describing the unique style of the painter, as well as explaining his inspiration for some of his best known paintings painted during his stay in an asylum gave a detailed account of his creativity despite his struggle with mental illness.

When the painting draws you in

One of the highlights was the use of virtual reality technology where you could snap on a special helmet and literally walk into Van Gogh’s life through his paintings. From the airy, sunlit bedroom in Arles to the field of wheat and of course the Starry Night in Rhone, you could stroll through the scenes that he painted from memory. To remember what eyes saw and to transform them through the genius of his art to masterpieces that keep future generations of art lovers and ignoramuses alike must have been Van Gogh’s special gift!

The best part of this immersive experience was the large room where visitors could stand, sit, recline or lie flat on the floor and watch the paintings float all around on the high walls all around the room. From the happy hues of the yellow sunflowers to the dark blues of the irises and the shining orbs of Starry Night, you could just stay there, silent and wide-eyed with wonder at the magnificence of the art and the use of technology to evoke awe in all who sat in that communal space.

While each of us had our own experience of all that was around us, there was a collective vibe that was impossible to deny. You could see it in the quietness that pervaded the large space, the gentle movements of the people even as they moved around and took pictures, and most importantly, in the reluctance of the audience to leave this space.

What would Van Gogh have thought of this?

In a world filled with hunger and apathy, of violence and impatience, what we need more than ever, are these small oases of awe that hold us in their spell for a while. In those minutes we are held in a safe space, a cocoon of wonder that reminds us of what really makes humans special, the ability to transcend the ordinary cruelty of life. 

By taking time to appreciate art we can resist the pressure to work, to earn, to accumulate  and just breathe into the perfection of this moment which is fleeting. But when such elusive moments are captured through the paintings of artists like Van Gogh, we can hold on to them forever. And then, the possibility of stepping into peace, just as easily as we stepped into his paintings in this beautiful immersive exhibition, seems within reach.

Have you been moved by art?  


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