The experience of looking at art is an experience completely unique from any other form of the human experience. Many great artists completely transport us into a different world, and leave us walking away a different person than we were before that discovery. It can be a completely immersive experience that swallows viewers whole. But what makes it so immersive? Some would say detail, but some of the most profound works of art are quite simple. Some may say history, but again new art can grab attention just as effectively as the art of Michelangelo. To me, I think art allows us a deep connection to both the creator, and to each other. Art is immersive because it is part of all of us.
Which next begs the question, is all art immersive? Can we be just as encapsulated in a child’s drawing of their imaginary friend as we are to something like the Sistine Chapel? Others may disagree with me here but I say absolutely. Without a doubt in my mind that connection is there. It’s why art has transfixed us since before written language— it tells a story that words are unable to communicate.
I promise I have a point of inspiration here, so stay with me! Recently I had the incredible opportunity to spend a day in DC and see the Van Gogh Immersive Experience. Beforehand, I wandered the National Gallery and got to see so many gorgeous works of art that I had only ever seen on a page or projector screen. (Yes, I cried when I saw a Van Eyck, a Van Gogh, a Monet and a Da Vinci in real life all in the same day) My boyfriend tagged along for the experience, and I got to see a lovely glimpse of how someone who has no experience in the art world perceives art.
To me, the National Gallery was as immersive as it gets. And yes, while he loved it, I saw something really click in him in the immersive experience. He walked out with a brand new appreciation for what he had seen earlier. I realized it wasn’t even because of what we were looking at, but because he got to learn the history of an artist. He got to make the connections I walked in with! Sure, he had seen Starry Night, but now he knew that Van Gogh had a life not too far off from his. He had a big family, he had emotions and goals and needed outlets that sometimes he didn’t know how to find. I will never forget the look on his face when he learned how Vincent died—by shooting himself in the chest. I remember him asking me why anyone would want to die so painfully; originally he saw simply bright color and swirly shapes in van Gogh’s work, but now he had a deeper lense to evaluate with. Making a connection with the artist truly made the entire experience immersive, not the projectors or voice overs or overpriced gift shop. It gave me a new appreciation for a passion I already had! Art History in that moment had never been so important to me.
In short, any and all art is immersive. I hope everyone takes an extra second to think about the artist behind the scenes, and the importance of their history to how we perceive their world. Look into the eyes of one of many Vincent Van Gogh portraits, and learn to find yourself in them.