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.