KOKOMO, Ind. – Imagine walking through Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, holding out your hand as a bee bumbles by. Or standing so close to the Café Terrace at Night, you can almost smell the coffee brewing. Or wondering at the majesty of The Starry Night, with the moon so close you can almost reach out and touch it.
For nearly an hour, Indiana University Kokomo students and recent alumni were immersed in those worlds, as they visited “The Lume: Van Gogh” at Newfields, as part of a Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) trip.
“You feel like you’re almost in the painting,” said Amber Beatty. “It was very moving. You’re in it, and you can feel the emotion behind the work.”
Rosalyn Davis, clinical associate professor of psychology, led the trip as a follow up to a spring 2019 trip to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in which students explored mental health care in European countries. They visited the Van Gogh Museum, considering how the artist’s mental health issues informed his work.
When she heard “The Lume” was coming to Indianapolis, she was excited for the students to experience the work in a different way, and to be part of a larger experience.
“Big exhibitions like ‘The Lume’ don’t come to Indiana all that often,” Davis said. “We can relate it to our curriculum, because of his mental illness, and talk about how that impacted his art. This lets them see what art looks like in other places. When you see an artist’s work in person, you get excited for what else is out there.”
Visiting an art museum is a new experience for many, she added, and going as part of a student group makes it less intimidating.
“It’s very friendly,” she said. “The art is just so immersive. It’s just magnificent.”
She invited current graduate and undergraduate students, along with alumni who went on the Amsterdam trip, to be part of the experience.
For nearly an hour, they stood, transfixed, in nearly 30,000 square feet of gallery space. Floor-to-ceiling projectors played digital content of Van Gogh’s work, transforming it from two dimensional to three-dimensional, and setting it in motion all around them — even under their feet.
It told Van Gogh’s story from his earliest artwork into the last years of his life, enhanced with sweeping classical music, light and cheerful during the happy parts of his life, and somber during his times of struggle.
Kellin Hardin, a student in the Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling program, said the immersive experience made the artwork more memorable — and experiencing it with her classmates built a bond between them.
“I love Van Gogh’s paintings, and I’m hoping to go on the next study abroad trip,” she said. “It was nice to see it in a format where there was movement within the pictures, to make it that much more interesting. And seeing it together, it feels like it built a community for us.”
Her classmate Jim Montgomery agreed, adding that as future mental health counselors, they will be professional colleagues after graduation and these relationships are important.
“When we’re on campus, we’re stressing about work we have to do for our classes, and even though we study in groups and talk in class, this is a more laid-back environment,” he said. “It allows us to get to know the other students and spend time with our faculty in a less formal way, to feel like we’re building a friendship. These are all good people, and it’s good to have fellowship outside the classroom.”
The trip is part of IU Kokomo’s KEY program , which launched in 2016 with the goal of providing students chances to connect with people and participate in real-world experiences. The goal is for each student to have a travel experience within his or her major.