Art Pilgrimage:
Immersive Van Gogh

Not every pilgrimage is far away. Art pilgrimage can be the journey close to home—whether at an ordinary museum, a cathedral filled with sacred art, an alley filled with wall murals, or in an immersive environment where technology puts you right inside the paintings.

The beauty of art pilgrimage is that it’s something you can do alone or with family or friends. It’s also wheelchair accessible.

I remember the first time I went to the Louvre. It was super-crowded, and I was rushing through it with my family (we were in Paris just for the weekend). 

Yet there in the middle of everything was a painting by Eugène Delacroix: The Death of Sardanapalus. And for whatever reason, this painting overflowing with violence and decadence held me. Something in it struck a chord in me, and all I wanted to do was stand there and stare at it and cry.

Beauty can do that. It plunges right through all the inner clutter that makes a wall between us and what’s real and holy.

In a sense, there is the pilgrimage of the artist—the journey toward creation of the vision, the communication of truth—and there’s the pilgrimage of the one who sees it and experiences it. The journey that work of art takes inside the person who sees and how it changes that person.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit

The Immersive Van Gogh exhibit was an intentional art pilgrimage for me. 

Downtown was still a covid ghost town, but the exhibit itself had a good turnout—a pile of people all ready to get out and experience beauty again. Likeminded pilgrims for the journey, all ready to receive the vision of an artist they loved and those who created it anew for a moving, immersive format.

Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh—world famous today—wasn’t very well known in his own time. 

He was born into a very practical and strict Dutch Reformed family and lived the early parts of his short life trying to please them. Although he drew with his mother’s encouragement, he worked in business, then as a missionary in the coalmines—always failing—being other than the essential, creative Van Gogh that would gift the world with 2,000 paintings in 10 years before he committed suicide at age 37.

Van Gogh drew and painted in the countryside around. It was only after his father’s death and his fiancée’s attempted suicide that Van Gogh began painting in earnest—starting with his famous The Potato Eaters (Les mangeurs de pomme de terre).

Eventually, he moved in with his younger brother Theo in Paris. Theo gave him financial support, but it was a difficult relationship. Van Gogh’s life was filled with bouts of mental illness, alcoholism, and painful relationships. He dreamed of setting up an artists’ colony, only to end by threatening Gauguin with a razor before removing his own ear with the same.

And yet his art was nothing like the Impressionistic norms of his time—thus the difficulty in finding it a contemporary audience. In many ways, Immersive Van Gogh is a journey through the artist’s life and passions. 

The exhibit isn’t precisely chronological, but creator Massimiliano Siccardi leads us on a logical progression through Van Gogh’s art, with its places, moods, and colors. Composer and pianist Luco Longobardi accentuates our sense of place and emotion via a soundtrack ranging from classical pieces to Edith Piaf and even original music. These two pioneered immersive art experiences in Paris (that work so well for art pilgrimage!).

Paintings come to life stroke by stroke. A sun rises and we feel its heat. Candles burn and go out on a man’s hat. Blossoms blow onto a tree, and the scene shifts. His Starry Night spirals into being and merges into the very different Starry Night Over the Rhone.

I didn’t recognize every work of art; Van Gogh had a truly broad scope and was incredibly prolific. Siccardi makes the art and, indeed, Van Gogh’s own journey, live.

You can stay through multiple rounds of the exhibit’s 60,600 frames of video and wander or sit, as you like. So there’s truly opportunity for pilgrimage and meditation in the midst of shifting beauty.

“I dream my painting, and I paint my dream.”

~Vincent Van Gogh

Things to Know About Immersive Van Gogh

  • Place: Varies, but is showcasing in many cities worldwide. Check here for one in your area.
  • Length: About 35 minutes for one full evolution (but you can stay through multiple times, if you like)
  • Price: Starts at around $40 for adults and $25 for kids. Untimed & flexible options are available for more.
  • Hours: Tickets are tied to a specific time or time range.
  • There is a guide explaining what’s going on in each segment of the exhibit (available in audio or text). I highly recommend reading through it before the event, unless you’re very, very familiar with Van Gogh’s works and life.
  • Venue: Differs by location. Some appear more formal, more spaced out. Ours was more casual, in a locale that had lots of character but not lots of AC. Seating might be benches or chairs (or cushions on the floor).
  • Van Gogh cushions: Thin. Pile them high or use a bench.

Other Art Pilgrimage Ideas

I’m not going to be super-original here. Because once you’ve embraced the idea of the art pilgrimage as a type of meaningful or meditative journey, you don’t really need me to tell you what might do the trick. 

Here are a few ideas:

  • Local (or not-so-local) art museums & exhibits
  • Old churches & cathedrals often keep a collection of sacred art.
  • Old churches & cathedrals also sometimes sponsor musical and artistic events for the community. The Church of Saint Merri in Paris does this, including more unusual art such as Henry Hua’s Japanese origami display.
  • Wander through a part of town with lots of wall murals. We seem to have them all over the place around here.

Wall mural around town ... one of many

Inspiration for the journey ...

Reason for Pilgrimage: Pilgrimage is more than just a hike. The reason you’re going makes a difference in how you prepare yourself and what you decide to take with you.

5 Amazing Paris Cathedrals & Churches ... There are definitely more than 5 amazing Paris cathedrals to include in your pilgrimage journey. These are 5 big ones—a couple not on the typical lists.