All contemplative work is countercultural. Today's American culture is awash in over-stimulating, under-nourishing imagery. Most of us live in visually busy cities. We drive cars, go to the movies, and (of course) watch TV. Most are also online, confronted daily with the stimulus on our computer screens. The scale of this assault on our senses is historically unprecedented. Today’s eyes, relentlessly taxed with the effort of sorting this bombardment of emptiness are sorely in need of a more contemplative visual engagement.
The challenge for any artist in the twenty-first century is to contend with the ubiquity of imagery and to meet the growing need for something more substantial for viewers. Unfortunately, much of what surfaces in the world of fine art contributes to the problem rather than to a solution. It tends not to be contemplative, more often mirroring the neurosis of the culture that produced it. It is an unacknowledged tragedy of our times. What happens when so much of the use we make of our eyes is to fend off overstimulation? We do little but sort and define and clarify the seemingly endless barrage of information. 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? How are we to find peace in the midst of chaos? When our eyes do not rest, neither do our spirits. When our eyes are abused, so are our hearts.
However there is also art that is good to spend time with, art that arises from a deep and full visual engagement. This is art that creates space within and apart from the chaos. It has a restorative and calming effect. It is quiet, but engaging, soft spoken, yet articulate. It creates space wherein we can breathe. This is work that, when seriously absorbed, restores the spirit and brings goodness to the heart.
This is contemplative art. Though it is all around us, it is usually not readily apparent. It needs to be sought out. Like a hermit monk, it will not be found unless it is looked for. It is effectively invisible to any but those who search, though it is nonetheless real and alive. Sometimes it hides in plain sight, easily missed because it does not compete for attention. It is nonaggressive. It has no agenda and does not demand to be seen. I have often noticed that when I visit an art gallery the art that I most value in the end is the art that I don’t see on my first walk through the exhibit. It is the soft-spoken piece that asks nothing of me, but tends to be hidden, like a short poem in a long book.
The artwork I make is intended for just such cultural invisibility. It Is not meant to be discovered by the unquiet eye, the encultured heart, but to feed the engaged and honest seeker. I do not ask it to be easy, but to bring ease to the struggling spirit.