Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys

By Jennifer Allen

“Everything in the universe has a purpose. There are no misfits, there are no freaks, there are no accidents. There are only things we don't understand." ~ Marlo Morgan

I am still somewhat giddy while writing this as I was given the opportunity to experience the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in Charlotte right before it opened to the public. After shuffling through a twisting, dark hallway, your senses are then completely overtaken by just how immense the exhibit is. Every single nook and cranny of the space from floor to ceiling is illuminated with radiant color.

Walking in felt almost like how Dorothy must have felt in the 1939 version of the Wizard of Oz when she opened the door and stepped out of the bland sepia tones of her house into the vivid shades of red, blue, green and yellow within the Munchkin village.

Yeah. It was like that... but even better.

Watching the exhibit itself, my mind continually shifted between the trepidation of each tiny moving brush stroke from one painting to another and the comforting warmth due in no small part to the gorgeous arrangements of music playing in sync with them. The last five minutes of the exhibit are gentle swirls of blue and yellow as a unique version of Samuel Barber's “Adagio for Strings" (arranged specifically for the exhibit by Luco Longobardi) hits your ears.

By the time the presentation was over, I was still standing there… staring at near black screens with white lettered credits for a good minute or so as my brain was all but forced to assimilate all of the sensory input I had just watched in the past 35 minutes.

My first thought when I had a much clearer view was not of how incredible the overall show had been, but instead I felt sadness that the very artist who made it possible never had the chance to see his work so treasured and admired like it is now.

This is because Vincent Willem van Gogh was often regarded as a person who didn't fit into the societal norms of his time. He was often seen as an intelligent yet quiet person who initially took up art as a way to cope with loneliness and kept it up for another 10 years after that. Amazingly he created over 860 paintings alone which include everything from portraits to landscapes to still life works.

Unfortunately for most of his life Van Gogh was commercially unsuccessful and was often branded as both a madman and failure. Some today think perhaps he had some mental condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Perhaps he was just a misunderstood genius who found a strange place “where discourses on madness and creativity converge."

“...to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly, the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of colour, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived." ~ Dr. Black (Bill Nighy) from 'Vincent at the Doctor', Dr. Who

One thing that is for certain. Vincent van Gogh was a unique person who, while he did experiment with various genres and mediums of art, eventually developed his own style of texture and color that made his work so peculiar and yet so captivating.

He was what we'd call today… a 'Misfit Toy'.

For those who are not aware of the term's origin... it's from the 1960's Christmas Special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In the story, the titular character and friends end up on this island and meet sentient toys who all have some odd quirk about them. Because of said quirks, these toys feel that no human child would ever want to play with them. At the end of the special, Santa Claus takes a detour to pick up the toys and take them all to loving homes.

Within a broader spectrum, a Misfit Toy is a person who is often motivated by things that a typical person may discard or not think about. They care little about fitting in, looking for the 'next best thing', or dodging criticism because they prefer to remain honest to themselves. This no-nonsense attitude doesn't mean that this person Misfit Toy doesn't want to be appreciated. They're still human beings with wants and needs just like everyone else. However, if this praise must be achieved by pretending to be someone else, then they'll most likely seek out those who will accept them without question.

Adversely, people such as these can also be described as… 'complicated'. Often butting heads with a Misfit Toy can be like dealing with a brick wall. They tend to have a much more rebellious and stubborn mentality while intensively focused on surpassing the impossible dream. This type of attitude can be difficult to accept, but with a vast amount of patience you can find a true jewel amidst the rough edges.

To me this broad yet revealing definition describes someone like Vincent to a tee.

I've often labeled myself as one of these outlandish individuals due to my unusual quirks and interests, so in a way I've grown to feel a sort of kinship with this troubled yet remarkable Dutch artist who spent much of his life observing the world around him with an equal measure of despair and fascination.

I'm glad that the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is now able to bring his art to so many around the world who until now had only seen perhaps a small handful of his pieces. Perhaps the truest tragedy is that he died so young at only 37 years old. I have no doubt his art could have only continued to mature and grow and given us all so much more insight into his troubled yet beautiful mind.

If you do have a chance… go see it whether it's in Charlotte or some other city that the exhibit will be touring through in the coming months. While it may not be the most profound experience for some, I'm sure that after 35 minutes surrounded in lavish color and sound… you just realize that you have a bit of 'Misfit Toy' in you as well that's been simmering inside of you… aching to finally be released.


Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer, Graphic Artist, Gamer, Martial Arts Practitioner, and all around Pop Culture Geek.