My wife Blythe and I traveled to Hartford, CT, recently to see Beyond Van Gogh, a massive immersive experience that is a fascinating blend of traditional painting and highly sophisticated digital technology.
You enter a cavernous room surrounded by images painted by the artist, projected on huge screens and animated through highly advanced computerized programming. No doubt, most in the audience were focused on the artist—Vincent Van Gogh—the beauty reflected in his paintings compared to the tragedies in his life, the meaning behind his work, his techniques. But I was struck by the word “Beyond.”
It’s not a new concept for me, actually. In fact, it’s in the title of my book—Beyond the Comma. What does that word imply? The dictionary definition is, “on the further side of—i.e., “beyond the sea”—or, a place not yet reached—”beyond death” or to the furthest extent—”beyond comprehension.”
But surrounded by these extraordinary images, two thoughts came alive for me in new ways. First, as the animations unfolded on screen, I became aware of the value in every brush stroke. Each time Van Gogh set brush to canvas was not a random act but was integral to the artist’s intent and to the value of the whole. Second, Van Gogh himself could never have imagined this presentation, this convergence of traditional art with advanced technology, and how generations yet unborn when Van Gogh was alive would see his creativity in this qualitatively new way.
As I watched, my whole focus shifted from what was present to what lies beyond—what is next—what is “not yet.” I realized again how it is not just important what we choose to say and do for today or even what we consider for tomorrow, but we must also open our imaginations to what lies beyond.
In the same way that each brush stroke in the Van Gogh exhibit added to the radiance of his art, the brilliance of the whole canvas, his message of beauty and vivacity in his paintings—each of us has a role to play in the unfolding of history, not only for our own time, but potentially for generations to come.
My takeaway was that each brush stroke—just like each of us, and every person whose life we touch—is essential to the flow of history that lies beyond—beyond the midterm elections, beyond the War in Ukraine, beyond the struggling economy, even beyond the climate crisis. Like the individual brush strokes in Van Gogh’s paintings, each of us has agency to influence how the pallet of history may be experienced in generations yet to come.
And when we get impatient with the course of events, we need to recognize that no matter how attentive, how creative, how sensitive, how empathetic, how insightful we are that we can never fully imagine the shape of things a decade from now or a generation from now. How will the artists and technicians of those times magnify our lives so that our example may reach others in new, inventive and enduring ways? This wheel of life is a sacred trust, one that we can all affect and one in which we all share.
I will be taking the next week off and will return to this space in two weeks. Be well. Stay safe.
3 thoughts on “Beyond Van Gogh”
This was very beautiful. I have been thinking about you recently and was really moved by this piece. It reminded me of what I always said about Tanenbaum and the peacemakers. That what we brought into the world – ultimately the idea that one could put into practice respect And love and kindness, – was an idea, something that needed to keep brewing even if Tanenbaum didn’t survive. What we did was keep that construct alive with many others for a period of time. The beyond is up to others but the possibility is there.
Always with friendship, Joyce Dubensky
In similar fashion the word “across” expresses more than our imaginations can fully grasp within the confines of our in-the-moment lives. Nevertheless, I too-often find myself wondering what the crossing might bring as I bridge the void between the ‘here’ and the ever-uncertain ‘there.’
Many of us all-too-frequently face what seems a perilous journey ahead in our lives. We hold on dearly — oh so dearly do we hold on, to the here, to the known — before venturing bravely or otherwise forward.
And then…, across.
Best wishes to all, in each your crossings ahead.
I first became familiar with Van Gogh when I was a volunteer with the Art Goes to School program in the Philadelphia area back in the 1970’s. It was some of the most enjoyable volunteering I have ever done to take reproductions of masterpieces into elementary classrooms and engage the children in getting to know the artists and their work. It was such fun! Van Gogh’s paintings always were among the kids’ favorites and mine as well. No surprise that Earl and I went to see Beyond Van Gogh when it came to Louisville. It was magical. But of course I didn’t think about “beyond” the way you have, Bob, and I want to thank you for enriching our experience these many weeks later. Among other things I am thinking more now about “my brush strokes” and wondering what the future will do with them. Love to you and Blythe! Pat