I would like to introduce myself, my new website, and this blog with a philosophical/artist's statement. It is my hope that any sort of conversation that might develop here grow along the lines of these concerns.
CONTEMPLATIVE ART IN DISQUIETING TIMES
The intention of my artwork is contemplative. In this way it is deeply countercultural.
To live an engaged life in today's American culture is to find oneself awash in imagery. Not only do more of us than ever before live in visually busy cities, but almost all of us drive cars, go to the movies, and (of course) watch TV. Most of us are also online, absorbing even more imagery on our computer screens. Our eyes are relentlessly taxed with the effort of sorting this historically unprecedented bombardment of visual information. The irony of adding this new website to the mix is not lost on me. In fact it is this very issue that has made me hesitate until now.
But I believe that it is important to challenge the nature of the ubiquity of imagery and talk about how to address visual overstimulation in our culture. As an artist, I have to confront the reality that much of what surfaces in the world of fine arts contributes to the problem. It’s no wonder, I think, that the fine arts have been so marginalized in our culture. Few people have the capacity to seek out more imagery, more visual challenges, in an already overstimulated, busy life.
Anyone who decides to brave the "art world" will find it offers many images of perverse and violent statements by artists who have something to say to us about a number of topics. Neurosis is the order of the day. We are advised to value the rarefied vision and personal expression of these artists as talented and culturally relevant voices. --And maybe we should. It may be that we ignore these voices at our own peril. -- But what happens when the only use we make of our eyes is to sort and define and clarify this overstimulation, as we struggle to find peace in the midst of chaos? What happens when there is no relief for the eyes, no gift from the artist that allows for rest and restoration of our busy and abused vision? It seems to me there is a high price to pay for this way of life. When our eyes do not rest, neither do our spirits. When our eyes are abused, so are our hearts.
Many, understandably, look for relief in a softer visual backdrop. Either they do not adorn their walls at all, or they buy posters with pastel colors and innocuous imagery which are like Musak for the eyes. You would not want to spend serious time looking at these pictures. They are not visually satisfying. And in fact I am confident that they are seldom looked at at all. But there is another way. There is an art that is good to spend time with, an art that arises from a deep and full visual engagement. This is art that does not add to the busyness of the world, but has a calming effect. It is quiet, but engaging, soft spoken, yet articulate. This is work that, when looked at seriously, restores the spirit and brings goodness to the heart.
I call this art Contemplative. It is work that is all around us, but is usually not readily apparent. It needs to be sought out. Like a cloistered monk, it will not be seen unless it is looked for. You won’t often find it in the bins of pre-framed pictures in the chain stores. It is rarely featured in art galleries or large museum exhibitions. It is effectively invisible to any but those who look for it. This art is often "cloistered" in private homes, churches or meditation centers. It is certainly not what we have come to expect to see in so-called "public art." And yet it can be found, even sometimes hiding in plain sight. It is easily missed, I think, because it does not compete for attention. It is nonaggressive. It has no agenda and does not ask to be seen. And, most importantly perhaps, we often don't know to look for it. We don't know that it is what we are missing until we stumble upon it. Contemplative art tends to disappear because it looks at the world in ways that are culturally invisible. Its attention is... elsewhere.
Do you know what I mean? Have you had experiences of stumbling upon contemplative work? Perhaps you have been at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and came across the beautiful Morandi there. Or maybe you were lucky enough to see the recent Jim Proctor show at the Bockley Gallery (also in Minneapolis). Jim is one of my favorite local artists. He creates elegant still life sculptures out of natural objects and mounts them in exquisitely self-crafted shadow boxes. I have included one of his pieces at the bottom of this blog. To see more of his work, please look him up at:
Or maybe you saw something at the home or studio of a friend. I had the pleasure this past week of visiting the studios of Lynn Speaker and Teri Bloch, both of whom do beautiful work. Like Jim, Lynn also works with natural objects. She burns them with gun powder into a prepared ground of board or paper, creating multi-layered silhouettes in subtle colors. They are deeply contemplative. Please see one of her works below, and look her up here:
Teri is a painter. Working mostly with acrylic on board she creates corner of the eye images of the city and its people, scenes generally not noticed, much less contemplated. One of her images is copied below. More can be seen at:
I welcome comments or questions about any of these artists, my own work seen on this site, and/or thoughts about contemplative art as it lives and breathes -- and contrasts with culture.