Last November my grandmother was visiting and wanted to do something fun. Instead of fun, my mother dragged us to the traveling “Beyond Van Gogh” exhibit that was in Salt Lake City at the time. As we entered this big warehouse where the exhibit was located, my fears seemed to be confirmed. I walked along a winding path with backlit, large-canvas reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings with excerpts of letters written between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo written over top of the paintings. For me, because I have a visual field cut and other sensory processing issues, it was painful and overwhelming to look at. The backlighting of the artwork made every detail pop and screamed for my attention. So everything smeared together and my brain could not process anything. I did everything I could to avert my eyes as I felt myself slowly becoming overwhelmed and on the verge of melting down.

I did notice that not everything in this room was yelling at me. In between these paintings, there were various empty picture frames invisibly suspended from the ceiling. As people, including myself, walked by, we all became the subjects. I became part of the artwork for a fleeting moment as I was framed within the borders. Then, once I turned the last corner, I entered a dark room with projections of moving color on the wall and floor. I went from being the one who moved around stationary pieces of art into a stationary person watching as the brushstrokes of color and light moved around me and swallowed me whole. As my mind and senses adjusted to this new reality, I entered a huge warehouse-sized room, projections of Van Gogh’s work enveloped me on all sides. I was completely immersed in all the colors and details. Music written about Van Gogh or his works was gently playing in the background. For me, it was like a reverse fishbowl effect. Instead of feeling alone and exposed while something stared at me, I was a natural being that was happily swimming amidst the wonder around me. As I watched colors and paint strokes slowly morphing one painting turned into another, for the first time, art moved me in ways I never experienced before.

By magnifying details that I would never normally see, I finally understood why art is so powerful. I watched his artistic process from start to finish as sketches were recreated and deconstructed before my eyes. I did not know about his work as a portrait painter, but seeing his side-by-side gallery of his many subjects, including himself, showed such an incredible imagination. This was the first time that I felt art really move me. Van Gogh’s artwork is so powerful and now I understand why his work lives on today. Visiting the “Beyond Van Gogh” exhibit has made me rethink what is possible. Please do not tell my mom that she was right and that I had so much more than fun.

Works Cited: “The Immersive Experience ” Beyond Van Gogh, Salt Lake City, 2 Dec. 2021,

– Julia Reardon (Mountain Heights Academy, Utah)