By Veronica Szczygiel, Ph.D.
In elementary school, when I read “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, its fifth volume, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” quickly became my favorite. I was captivated the moment Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace were whisked into a painting of a ship on vast seas, arriving right on its deck in the middle of the world of Narnia.
Recently, I got the chance to understand how these children felt stepping into a painting when I attended the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit at Pier 36 in Manhattan. The location, an old warehouse, was unimpressive from the outside. But entering the exhibit itself was like entering the actual canvases of impressionist master Van Gogh.
There were three rooms with mirrored columns that enhanced an already overwhelmingly beautiful experience. Lights projected moving images on all four walls and the floor, so walking during the video was disorienting. Instead, we took a seat and watched the whole presentation comfortably from beginning to end.
What we witnessed was a masterfully made film that literally dropped us into Van Gogh’s famous artworks, like “The Starry Night” and “Sunflowers,” and his lesser-known works. Transitions between paintings sometimes gave me the illusion that the floor was moving. But my favorite aspect of the show was that the paintings themselves weren’t simply projected on a grand scale. Through careful composition and computer animation, Van Gogh’s painted subjects came to life. Trees grew; the sun rose and set across the entire room; furniture floated; flowers bloomed. A train moved along a railroad track and puffed smoke. A windmill’s blades rotated in the wind.
The experience made me feel as if I were not only within Van Gogh’s creations but also his mind. What an incredible imagination he had! It made me wonder what it would be like to step into the mind of our God and to witness His own extraordinary, divine imagination.
God’s imagination must hold treasures and surprises that we ourselves would never be able to even dream of. The One who handcrafted the entire universe must have a lot to share with us when we are united with Him in heaven. If I was impressed with the Immersive Van Gogh, I know I would be absolutely floored to witness the mysterious wonders God Himself is capable of.
What I came to realize, though, is that we are already living in an “immersive” experience every day — for the beauty of the earth, the bounty of creation, the unique and magnificent species of land, sky, and deep seas are all living testaments to God’s breathtaking imagination. All the grandeur that surrounds us is His own handiwork; none of it would exist without Him.
We need only to look in the mirror to be awed by God’s artwork and love, for we, too, were carefully crafted — and moreover, in his own image. Let us pay close attention and be awed by the immersive exhibit that always surrounds us, and be grateful that we can partake in it.
Veronica Szczygiel, Ph.D. is the Assistant Director of Online Learning of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University.