Artistic Vision: Still Life with an Intimate Eye
An ancient philosopher and a modern physicist underlie my artistic vision. In my eye, the images also merge the elements of the tableau, mysticism, modern technology – and the joy of composition that I have enjoyed since I was a young girl.
Let me begin with Plotinus, the neo-Platonist philosopher of the 200s AD. He says that beauty arises from the “Great Beauty,” which rises up to meet us through all that exists. He urges us to look for this great beauty emerging from the forms we see. The Berkeley scholar Margaret Miles has described his ideas in Plotinus on Body and Beauty: “Beauty is the connecting link, the bridge between the rich diversity of the sensible world and the great beauty… Contemplation is the practice of oscillating between attention to the beauty of the particular and attention to the one life informing all… Seeing the beauty of the ordinary is the first step toward taking responsibility for what we see.”
About the same time I was studying Plotinus, I was trolling through a narrow bookstore while on vacation. My right hand attached itself to a book by physicist David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Writing as a scientist, Bohm asserts there is an order implicit within all existence that unfolds into explicit expression. Looked at in reverse, if we really apprehend what is expressed before us physically, we see the wider order of the whole that is implicit within each object. A simple example is that a seed unfolds into the expression of a flower – and the flower, if completely seen, shows us the nature of biology and indeed of the Life that animates our world. In physics as well, the laws of the universe are implicit in the atom.
My exposure to these teachings and the investigation that followed changed my life. I had always loved the beautiful and the mystical, but assumed science was somehow separate from that. Even as a graduate student, I had assumed psychology and its disciplines were separate from a deep, unified view of the universe. Now I began to see science, psychology, and mysticism as links to the beautiful, paths to it, expressions of it.
Renewed by this worldview, I began to pay more attention to my early passions about beauty and the objects or subjects of the world. Even as a young girl, I loved arranging objects of interest to me on my dresser top until they “felt right” in relationship to each other. When I was older, about 12 or 13, I would go babysitting; when the adults were gone and the kids were asleep, I would collect things from all over the house and arrange them on the coffee table until the assemblage pleased me. I loved composing still lifes or tableaux without knowing what they were or what I was doing. Later, as a photography student, I enjoyed traditional close-up and landscape photography but often felt frustrated, wanting to rearrange the elements to my satisfaction. I enjoyed doing a number of still life installations, but always hated dismantling them in the end.
It is interesting to me that so many years later I would happen on an artistic process that enables me to compose three-dimensional still lifes and capture them photographically, and therefore have them to enjoy after the still life is dismantled! I began experimenting with objects on a flatbed scanner lens during a Colorado blizzard that gave me days to fill with creative activity. After day three of the blizzard, longing for summer and the seashore, I gathered a large collection of shells and arranged them on the flatbed lens (see the Photographic Process page). The resulting image completely and deeply pleased me. Soon I was enthralled with this new way of seeing beauty in the ordinary things of the world and the endless possibilities for composition.
Beauty is as simple as, “Look. Look!” And it is as breathtaking as the physics of the galaxy. Digital technology lets us look at beauty more closely and more accurately than ever before – holds more than our eyes can take in, holds it closer, holds it still so we can slowly absorb every fragment or stand back blinded by its brilliance – and our astonishment links us intuitively to the beyond, to the infinite… to the Great Beauty.
And Bohm’s physics affirms, yes, in that object where we dimly apprehend great beauty lies also the implicit order of the entire universe.
All opens before us, and within us.
And All is One.