Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cosmic Mystery

"The most beautiful and most profound religious emotion that we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. And this mysticality is the power of all true science. If there is any such concept as a God, it is a subtle spirit, not an image of a man that so many have fixed in their minds. In essence, my religion consists of a humble admiration for this illimitable superior spirit that reveals itself in the slight details that we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, December 30, 2006

In Mist Lies Truth

Joy, to a photographer (well, to at least some photographers;-) is waking up in the early morning on a weekend to find a freshly brewed pot of coffee in the kitchen (thanks to a wonderful spouse), and seeing a dense fog blanket the ground as far as the eye can see! "My wife knows me so well!" I think, as she places a coffee mug into my hand, helps put on a warm jacket, and pushes me out the door with my camera gear with the words, "Go enjoy the fog hun!" And enjoy I did.

Though the fog lasted maybe an hour ... while I was dancing with my camera and tripod in a nearby park, searching for compositions and just reveling in the magic of how mist - like broken windows! - both hides and reveals beauty, I lost all track of time.

I have always found fog as something of a paradox. Objectively speaking, it obscures reality; hides details and cloaks the identity of things. Yet, subjectively - or, spiritually speaking - it points to the essence of the world by briefly revealing the whole fabric of which the world is woven. I am always distinctly aware of when the "magic moment" is over (and it is time to pack up my gear), for it is precisely when the fog lifts and the world is again "revealed" as ordinary and real.

As (my favorite philosopher) Chuang-Tzu reminds us, while our momentary glimpse of wholeness vanishes along with the fog, we can always find our way back (by our soul's eye) by discarding ...

"...the distinctions and [taking] refuge in the common and ordinary things. The common and ordinary things serve certain functions and therefore retain the wholeness of nature. From this wholeness, one comprehends, and from comprehension, one to the Tao. There it stops. To stop without knowing how it stops -- this is Tao."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Art = Life = I

In the preface to the 4th volume of his (surely destined to become a revered, timeless) Opus - Nature of Order - Christoper Alexander suggests that the inner 'I' of every person, and hint of it that some experience when interacting with, or creating works of, art ...

"... is that interior element in a work of art, or in a work of nature, which makes one feel related to it. It may occur in a leaf, or in a picture, in a house, in a wave, even in a grain of sand, or in an ornament. It is not ego. It is not me. It is not individual at all, having to do with me, or you. It is humble, and enormous: that thing in common with each one of us has in us. It is the spirit which animates each living center ... This 'I' is not normally available, is drudged up, forced to the light, forced into the light of day, by the works of art."

Alexander devotes much of his final volume to developing a breathtaking view of art, nature and how the two are fused together by the inner "light" called 'I'...

"... It is my impression ... that the I or ground is a real thing, something which exists in the world, perhaps attached to matter or a pure part of matter, which is connected to the world in which we exist, in which matter exists, and that this I forms a necessary substratum to all that exists. It, in effect, a kind of blinding unity, underlying all matter."

Alexander's poetic prose resonates strongly with me (as does his entire Opus); indeed I would characterize our respective philosophical/spiritual worldviews as essentially the same.

The simplest, purest expression of why I love photography is that - on those precious, precious days when I am truly in the "Zen" of the moment and my soul (my 'I') sees unencumbered by the dirty filters of logic and cognition - I am able to share with others the magic of seeing the inner I of the world shine forth from behind the illusory veils of ordinary substance and conventional categories (that usually conspire keep it well hidden).

How do I know when I see it? Because I lose all sense of ego, yet know it is I.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What is it About Withered, Old Windows...? - Part II

What is it about withered, old windows? Even after posting a few recent images, my soul is still beckoned by the siren call of these enigmatic, lost souls of time. I have already written of the magical way in which withered windows simultaneously reveal and conceal mystery. Another reason I find them so strangely compelling, is that they are physical metaphors for the arbitrariness of partitions between parts and wholes.

As Gregory Bateson was fond of saying, "The division of the perceived universe into parts and wholes is convenient and may be necessary, but no necessity determines how it shall be done." Taking my cue from Bateson, and speaking for the moment as more of a physicist than photographer, I can assure you that one of the deepest (though seemingly trivial) questions one can ask of our universe is this: "How can I really be sure that THIS is different from THAT?"

Almost as soon as we are able to see as infants, we begin to take for granted our ability to instantly, and effortlessly (at least from our conscious points of view!), partition the world around, and outside of, ourselves into parts and structures. As we open our eyes in the morning, we recognize the familiar walls and furniture of our bedroom, the sunlight streaming in though the blinds, the books on our shelves, the clothes in our closet, and so on. Hundreds of apparently separate objects instantly adorn our mind and space. But are they really separate? Where does one object begin and another end?

Where does the sunlight start and the window through which it seeps end? Where does the wall stop and ceiling or floor begin? Is the part of the room that is momentarily blanketed in darkness really different from the part that glows with the morning light? On an even deeper level, what is the real difference between the vast collection of cells that make up your body and the conscious you that is reading this sentence?

Is the universe really broken up into objectively separate parts, or is its clumpiness merely an illusion born of the fundamental limitations our senses impose on us?

Windows - for me - particularly old and withered ones, are reminders that much of the "order" we perceive "out there" is, in truth, only a local order that depends partly on what's out there, and partly on what's "in here" (in our minds and souls). The windows absorb and filter the myriad tones and forms of light that fall on them; allowing some to pass, reflecting others, rearranging most, and providing different views to different observers. Where is truth? Where is reality? Where is the observer?

"That which you are seeking is doing the seeking." 
- St. Francis of Assissi

Saturday, December 16, 2006

What is it About Withered, Old Windows...?

What is it about withered, old windows? I have found them mysteriously alluring for as long as I can remember. Quietly they sit, like sentinels - both of this world, and yet, somehow, not - watching the inexorable rhythms of time gently lap the timeless shores of distant memories.

I imagine, in my mind's eye, strange Borgesian universes lurking within the shadows, and magical worlds inhabiting the space beyond. Are the individual panes of glass mere placeholders, I wonder - random filters that diffuse and distort what is really there - or are they portals to other realities and realms of being?

What magical stories of life and truth these windows could share, if only there were ears to hear - and souls to understand - their long-forgotten language. Still, when all is quiet, and the light yields to darkness, faint whispers of a living past can sometimes be heard...with a camera.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden

A treat for all visitors to southern Florida is the 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Gardens, one of the world's preeminent botanic gardens. Fairchild has an extensive collection of rare tropical plants, and is home to botanical science programs (which focus on research and species and habitat conservation projects aimed at understanding and preserving tropical plant biodiversity).

Fairchild is located at 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, Miami, Florida 33156, and is next door to Matheson Hammock Park; both are roughly a 20 minute ride by car from downtown Miami.

I have visited both parks countless times during family visits to the area, and always manage to find something new and interesting that catches the eye.

Fairchild, in particular, is a wonderful place to seek refuge from the hectic pace of the outside world, and just meditate on the plush environs, filled with luscious vines, palms, cycads, and a wide variety of flowering trees.

Lucky visitors will, no doubt, be joined in their meditation of the park's splendors by other, smaller, residents...birds, turtles, lizards, and - of course - alligators. All photographers who find themselves in the Coral Gable area of Florida should plan on spending at least half a day at this mini Shangri-La!

The images appearing here were all shot during a Thanksgiving retreat to Florida's warmth.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Poetic Light

Every once in a while, a small gem of a book appears on the landscape; that is at once both humble and profound. Deborah Dewit Marchant's Traveling Light: Chasing an Illuminated Life is just such a gem. A small book - but only as measured by its physical size - it contains some of the most beautifully tranquil and ethereal imagery I have seen in a long while; the meditative contemplation of which is nourished by a generous sampling of lovingly poetic musings on the artist's life of yearning and searching for sources of illumination, from both outward sources and those inwardly directed. One of the purest forms of "fine-art" photography - with an emphasis very much on art - appears when "mere images" are used by the artist to convey both personal realities and universal truths. This can only happen when the artist has so mastered the symbolic language of his/her own creation, that the distinction between inner and outer worlds either blurs, or disappears altogether. Images become both figure and ground, are both context for deeper meaning and meaning giving rise to deeper contexts, and simultaneously represent objective "reality" and the most mysterious, deeply subjective, inner experiences. The highest form of "fine-art photography not only pleases us aesthetically (and, maybe, intellectually), but also teaches us something timeless about ourselves. It is a mystery how an image captured by one person can teach some other person something about him/her self; but when it happens it is often magical, and points to hidden realms of shared experiences and realities. By this measure of "fine-art" photography, at least, Marchant's art, as witnessed by the work appearing in her beautiful first book, is masterful indeed! I suspect that many will want to keep this volume by their bedside, if only to be gently reminded at the end of a stressful day that there is great joy and grace in the world, and that more of us would be able to see it, if only we could train our eyes, our hearts and souls to recognize it. Marchant has gone out and captured it for us, and I, for one, wish to thank her for sharing her experience. Anyone who is not moved - at some level - by this stunning book of "illuminated poetry" cannot possibly be alive ;-) ... for such is its spiritual reach. If Alfred Steiglitz were alive today, I am sure he'd proclaim, "Yes, yes, THIS is why photography is art!" You can see some of Marchant's photographs (as well as pastel drawings and oil paintings) on her website.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rocks, Leaves & Water

When my older son, Noah, was only five (a few years ago), he had already discerned one of the core meta-patterns of his dad's evolving pattern of imagery. Noah happily explained to anyone who inquired about "what that strange man with a tripod..." is doing, that..."That's just my dad; he likes to take pictures of rocks, leaves and water."

Later, of course, Noah's sense of his dad's meta-pattern grew deeper and ever more sophisticated; passing though "my dad likes to catch subtle light as it falls on dilapidated buildings,", stalling, for a while, on "my dad likes to take pictures of boring stuff," and eventually settling on "my dad likes gentle, quiet scenes." I am often greatly impressed with the depth of my son's young perception of my meta-patterns, and his eloquence in expressing them.

The three photos appearing here - all taken this past weekend at (the Virginia side of) Great Falls Park - are very firmly in the "rocks, leaves and water" class of meta-patterns; which is what I find myself going back to whenever I need to creatively recharge myself.

Patterns, meta-patterns and meta-meta-patterns may all come and go (and I hope they do keep coming and going, for change and evolution are the lifeblood of creation); but the pattern that repeats most often, and the one pattern that inevitably remains when the conscious "I" stops thinking, is what my son has known since he was five: "Dad just likes to take pictures of rocks, leaves and water."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kafka's Door Part II

A few months ago, I posted an image of a "door" (reposted on the left) that reminded me of Kafka's well-known parable of "Before the Law."

A few months after that image was taken (in late winter), I had a chance to revisit the same area and reshoot the same door, just as spring had arrived. I was delighted to come upon another Kafkaesque scene, both obvious and subtlety paradoxical.

The door had apparently come to life, with new vines and branches sprouting leaves and gently embracing the withered old structure, as if to newly nurture and support it. But the door was also mysteriously receding into the background, and was engulfed in the new "life" emerging all around it; almost as though it were being "eaten" by it. Its time had clearly passed, as it now journeys into the even more mysterious recesses of time and memory.

Where did the doorkeeper go?, I wonder; and where did this door really lead?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Autumn B&W Abstracts

That's right, autumn Black & White (not Color) abstracts ;-)

Assuming that the most meaningful role photography plays as an art form is as an "aesthetic language" that an artist may use to express his/her feelings (rather than as simply a vehicle for strict representational recreation of physical phenomena), it follows that if an obviously colorful scene unfolds itself for an artist in some way other than by its color (say, by its forms and/or tones), then a B&W "expression" of that otherwise colorful scene may be the preferred vehicle of communicating the emotion felt during the act of capture.

For me, such is clearly the case for the two images displayed here. In both cases, the color versions contain many sutble and beautiful tones of yellow and orange; and each color version properly and unmistakenly conveys a sense of autumn. However, in neither case was color responsible for grabbing my attention.

In the first image (at the top), I was drawn to the meloncholic, decaying leaves and the reflected form of a tree with its bare truck and branches. While a lovely sepia-like sheen marked the surface of the water, and there was a hint of an orange and brown "glow" beneath (which, together, instilled a sense of detached nostalgia), it was the purity of shapes and tones alone with which I made a personal connection; and through which I resonated with autumn's slowing energy.

In the second image (below), I witnessed (and experienced) a fleeting convergence of subtlety interpenetrating worlds; worlds not of color per se, but - again - of gentle forms and tones.

It was only after a long quite gaze at this serene self-contained world (surrounded by cliffs and massive boulders that I've deliberately left out of the small composition) that I eventually noticed how much the bright yellow leaves floating on the water stood out from the rather muted brown tones that had them surrounded.

For me, in that mysterious moment of meditative, inner reflection and understanding, there was no separation between leaves and water; or between foreground and background. I felt the quiet rhythm of the scene; nonpartitioned, unlabeled, uncategorized, and undifferentiated. Indeed, I might argue that the color, when I finally did see it, actually disturbed the essence of what I "saw" and was far - far! - from necessary for my being able to experience it.

Thus, it is the B&W version - and not the color! - that best conveys a sense of what I felt when I looked down at this little scene; and, insofar as these images themselves capture a part of my experience of autumn, here then is a bit of autumn, as revealed by two humble Black & White abstracts.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Autumn Color Abstracts

Autumn is that beautiful time of year during which I both rejoice in nature's wondrous colors and am reminded of (and sadly lament) my ongoing struggles to reproduce them in fine-art print form.

As I've revealed in several past posts, I generally shy away from color prints (or color photography of any kind for that matter!) for two reasons: (1) I do not generally see the world in color (being naturally predisposed to forms and tones), and(2) I am (still) unable to "previsualize" (ala Ansel Adams) the final color print.

While I on occasion get "lucky" and produce a serviceable print, I am not even close to being able to accomplish this with any predictable regularity. Thus, I both eagerly await the emergence of autumn's remarkable palette, and prepare myself for the inevitable challenge of - and, usually, the ensuing disappointment in my inability to - properly render what my "eye/I" really saw/felt.

Sprinkled here are a few "autumn color abstracts" that caught my eye and lens. However, please be warned that the images appearing here were created using the Adobe RGB color space, and not sRGB (which is the default viewing space for web pages) that you are likely viewing them with. Thus, the beautiful fall colors (which you'll have to take my word really existed! ;-) unfortunately appear very muted here. Nonetheless, I hope the images convey some sense of fall's beauty.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

John Sexton's Magnificent New Book: Recollections

The on-line Oxford Dictionary defines the word magnificent simply as "impressively beautiful"; where beauty is said to be "a combination of qualities that delights the aesthetic senses." While both words come to mind in describing John Sexton's new book, Recollections: Three Decades of Photographs, if we are to go by Oxford's rather banal definitions, neither word even comes close to conveying the depths of visual and spiritual pleasures that await anyone who focuses their eye on the masterful B&W images assembled here.

Though I own hundreds of photography books, and regularly peruse most of them for years, I have had a relatively few "Wow!" reactions over the years - indeed, the last such experiences are at least two decades old (!): to Bruce Barnbaum's late 1970s' Visual Symphony and, in the middle 1980s, to Fay Godwin's Land - but Sexton's new Opus not only evoked an immediate heartfelt "Wow!" from me, it also raises the bar on what will trigger a similar exclamation from me in the future. I sat transfixed for hours after receiving it in the mail yesterday, and already consider it a sacrosanct member of the deepest core of my photography library. It is truly an extraordinary work of art; one that I will be savoring - and learning from - for years to come.

It is also clearly the work of a master photographer and printer, at the height of his creative powers; and a "master" not just of the "moment" compared to his living peers, but a "master" as judged in the context of the history of the medium.

Of course, it is impossible to describe the "contents" of this book, except to say that it contains 52 plates (and a few short essays) of such things as rocks, trees, and water. But, as with all great photographic art, by the time you get to even the second image, such conventional, blandly and trivially representational categories are understood as absurd and meaningless. The best of Sexton's images - and there are none in this book that are not! - capture spirit itself.

In short, a masterpiece!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Vibrations in the Soul

“An artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” - Vasily Kandinsky

So begins a description of an on-line juried abstract-art exhibition gallery called Abstract Exposure, headquarted in Seattle, Washington.

From the FAQ on the gallery's website (and alluding to Kandinsky's "vibrations"), its charter is defined as follows:
Abstract EXPOsure celebrates these vibrations of the soul through a unique platform committed to actively promoting abstract artists and their work. Knowing that there are many artists who engage the abstract voice, Abstract EXPOsure aims to use the current technology and accessibility of the World Wide Web to breath life into the abstract genre. Abstract EXPOsure was created in direct response to the lack of an exclusive abstract venue and functions as an online international gallery-without-walls.

Abstract art is a lively, progressive style that deserves its own exhibition space. Historically, abstract art has flowed out times of crisis, tragedy or social and political unrest. Current difficulties in our world are being addressed by artists around the globe. Abstract EXPOsure provides a place to expose these feelings about society and also gives voice to the personal life experience of the artists themselves.

Four of my (somewhat older) images have been lucky enough to be accepted as part of the gallery's October Exhibition (and the only entry, as far as I can tell, out of the 15 accepted for the exhibit, that consists of photographs). Abstract Exposure's archived exhibits feature many wonderful artists; well worth exploring.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The EightFold Way of an Artist

While on a recent reconnaissance mission for a new image series, I experienced a mini-epiphany with regard to my (embarrassingly slow!) maturation as an artist. Before I expand on this muse, I need to briefly explain what I mean by "reconnaissance " and "image series" "reconnaissance" I mean a scouting out of potential photo sites: an excursion to a new park, a farm, a garden, or an out of the way road. Sometimes I go with my camera; sometimes I deliberately choose not to, and instead just walk around a place (with hands clasped behind my back, as my artist dad used to do as though it were genetically prescribed, which in his case it might well have been!) to get the feel of a new place. By "image series" I mean the set of photos that, by design (though chance also plays a vital part), revolve around a single theme: portals, light, reflections, complexity, decay,...

And so, on to my muse...I was on my way this past weekend to reconnoiter a local Russian Orthodox Church for a new image series called Light & Spirit, only to find it locked, with no one around to open it. As I started on my way back home, I noticed that I was not far from an old haunt of mine, a place I took about a dozen trips to while capturing images for a series eventually called "Entropic Melodies" (a few of which wound up in B&W Magazine last year). I have many fond memories of spending many wonderfully creative hours prowling around that place. But, despite having a few unexpected hours at my disposal on the heels of discovering a locked church, I had absolutely no desire to stop by my old haunt to capture a few photographs!

It was upon my honestly asking myself "Why didn't I stop to take some pictures?" (while waiting, ironically, at a stop light) that I had my sudden epiphany. I did not stop because my old haunt is no longer an active part of my creative landscape. I had, in short, moved on. The spark that lights my photography at a given place and time had been ignited - and is burning - but elsewhere. And it is that spark that drives my work.

My photography has, in recent years, slowly evolved from my being content to "shoot away" at will at a beach or park, with no specific artistic "goal" in mind other than to maybe capture a nice image or two, to a point where, if I have not managed to capture a series of strong enough images to convey something (ala Steiglitz or Minor White) of my inner state of mind (soul) while taking them, I am considerably less than satisfied. I yearn to tell a deeper story!

The keys here are:

(1) Recognizing, and being able to communicate, something aesthetically deeper than just the representational "surface layer" of a given image, and

(2) Imagining, and being able to use, a series of images to convey something of my inner experience of a place, as I am shooting it.

Thus, I am no longer content to "merely" capture a mysterious ethereal glow to an otherwise withered old window; I need to use that image, and another, and a third, and perhaps a dozen more like it (or entirely different from it!) to weave a still more mysterious narrative of what I felt (and maybe a bit of what I thought!) as I was transfixed on training my camera on withered old windows.

In trying to place my mini-epiphany-inducing locked-Church experience this weekend into a broader context, it occured to me that all photographers - indeed, perhaps all artists - inevitably go through some version of the following basic stages of what might suggestively be called the Eightfold Way of an artist:

(Stage 1) One learns the technical aspects of his/her craft. In the case of a photographer, this amounts to learning how to use a camera (the meaning of an f-stop, what ASA/ISO means, how to properly meter a scene, and so on), and learning to use a darkroom (analog or digital) to produce prints. The emphasis in this stage is on the formal, mechanical aspects of an art (which is not quite an "art"). The lessons are stored in short-term memory, and must often be practiced to the point of tedium in order to commit them to long term memory that, eventually, renders them automatic.

(Stage 2) Once the mechanical has become second nature, the first hint of real art appears. The basic tools of the craft are first used as tools of the trade, though perhaps still in rudimentary fashion. The camera is used to record the "objects" of the world that are of interest to the budding artist: a person, a flower, a tree, and so on. But little or no attention is given, at this stage, to anything other than a technically correct "capture" of an image; and a representational one at that. It is rare for a budding artist to skip this representational stage and move directly to an expressionist, or even abstract, rendering of the world.

(Stage 3) In the third stage, the emerging artist takes his/her first tentative steps towards using (the, by now, technically well executed) images to express something uniquely of themselves. It is not necessarily "timeless art" in the tradition of an Ansel Adams (since most artists will never even come close to achieving this lofty ideal); but it is "art" in the sense that the artist, having now mastered the tools of his/her trade, now uses them mindfully to convey an artful message. The image of a tree ceases to be merely a representation of a "pretty tree" and becomes, instead, a personal expression of "using the photographic capture of a tree to communicate X", where "X" is a message of the artist's own choosing. Stage three is both an "easy" step to take (at least for those meant to live a life of art); and a profoundly hard one to take naturally (since even the most committed artists often have a hard time disentangling what others expect them to create and what they themselves need to create). No one can make it to Stage 4 (and higher) without stumbling through the Stage 3 roadblock.

(Stage 4) The fourth stage is a deeper imprint of the process started in stage 3. Where stage 3 sees the artist use his/her craft to communicate an artful message, stage four invites the artist to develop a personal language that uses outward forms (captured by the camera) to express inner realities. Thus, stage 4 is where the objective meets the subjective for the first time. A found/created image retains its representational form, but is infused with the first light of transcendence by its conveyance of distinctly non-representational inner meaning. A given image is used to reflect the artist's inner experience of the context for the image at the instant of capture; think of Steiglitz's "equivalents" or Minor White's Zen-like approach to using photography as a probe of his inner self).

(Stage 5) Stage 5 (which is where, if I'm in a particularly happy mood, I allow myself to believe I'm taking a tentative step toward) is where the photographer first turns his/her attention to using a series of images to communicate - and share - a broader, deeper, experience of some meaningful reality in space and time. In short, to use images as an experiential, narrative grammar that may be used to recreate and communicate something of what the photographer felt while being in a place a camera for a time longer than an instant. When a photographer reaches stage 5, a single image no longer seems to suffice, and even a few feel stifling and incomplete. The photographer now actively seeks narratives with his pictures, and tends to use multiple images to communicate deeper experiences.

(Stage 6) As Stage 4 is a deeper imprint of stage 3, all successive stages from stage 5 and higher are essentially deeper imprints of the stages below them. Having mastered (by stage 5) his/her own creative grammar, the artist in stage 6 moves on to develop his/her own artistic language. Multiple series of images are still used, and the "subject matter" remains essentially the same, but the creative product is a subtly more profound, and resonates on many more levels (in the communication between artist and viewer). Paradoxically (though "obviously so" if you've been following the argument thus far), fewer people are able to "appreciate" what the emerging artist is using his new personal language to express; the artist need not fear this stage (though all do!), for this is also a landmark along the path to finding one's art (and soul). We cannot expect everyone to listen to what we have to say; or to hear us when we say it. The fact that fewer do than did before (at this stage) is a sign that both what we are saying and how we are saying it is becoming indelibly fused with who we are, at our core. And we are all different.

(Stage 7) Stage 7 sees the photographer embark on an even broader vision quest to use his/her art to communicate not just inner (and intensely personal) experiences, but universal truths as well. The photograher, at this stage, wishes to use photography (and art in general) to express an (objectively invisible) universe of subjective truth. No longer confined to the space of personal narrative, the artist's creative space encroaches the whole human experience of reality. The focus is now less on physical experiences, and more - often, much more - on spiritual experiences. Light, for example, as the pre-grammatic form of an artist's personal photographic grammar and language, is no longer just a counterpoint to tone and darkness, but is a symbolic pointer to a spiritual realm. The artist, once he/she enters stage 7, leaves the merely physical realm (and its myriad subjective descriptions), and enters the ineffably spiritual universe.

(Stage 8) Stage 8, which few artists encounter, but those that have, have obviously done so (at least to those viewers who still understand their "language"), sees the artist, in the deepest sense possible, come home, full circle...

“Before I had studied Zen for thirty years,
I saw mountains as mountains,
and waters as waters…

When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge,
I came to the point where I saw
that mountains are not mountains,
and waters are not waters.

But now that I have got its very substance
I am at rest.
For it's just that I see mountains
once again as mountains,
and waters once again as waters.”

— Ch'uan Teng Lu, The Way of Zen

...the artist's work is now so evolved, so personally attuned to the cosmos, and universal, that - at least on the best of days - the artist is finally able to convey all that is with, seemingly, hardly any effort, or even artwork (!) at all. A humble little single picture, perhaps not even one of anything recognizably real, or, just as likely, of something most people would think banal, now suffices to communicate (to the best of the artist's gifts and skills) the truths that are usually home only to young children and mystics. All is finally seen as one; and it is up to the viewer to see the one and appreciate, and marvel at, how the artist has rendered it as all.

Postscript: I have no doubt that my dad (about whom, and about whose art, I have written before on this Blog) is among the precious few souls who have attained the rarefied air of Stage 8. Here is his very last painting, created sometime shortly before he died on March 30, 2002. This from a man who amassed a lifetime's worth of skills, who sketched and painted countless landscapes and portraits, and, right up until his death, produced complex, multilayered abstracts the likes of which even Kandinsky would be proud! But his final image (that only those who did not know him would say was "obviously" drawn by a child) is a perfect - perfect! - narrative of my dad's artful journey: a joyous celebration of life and spirit.