b y A n d r e w R e a c h
– Kathleen Kern-Pilch, Art Therapist
The Digital Age certainly seems to provide a path to higher learning, but can technology serve as a gateway, fusing spirituality with artistic enlightenment?
I volunteer myself as a case study, demonstrating how spiritual engagement can merge with digital technology, to create a vibrant, conceptual platform for art.
Having had a long career as an architect with one of America’s most notable firms, HOK in Miami, I started using digital tools for visual art after a spine disease forced me to stop practicing in the field.
As a creative person, having no other outlet at that time, I found myself restless and frustrated.
The pain from my spine took control of me both emotionally and physically. Then, at the urging of Bruce Baumwoll, my life companion, I began to learn Adobe Photoshop; using the software program to make greeting cards, employing images from Bruce’s collection of vintage ephemera.
I quickly took to Photoshop, having a built in advantage because of my experience using computers in architecture. The creation of these cards were a transition to what would become—making original digital art from scratch.
From the basic knowledge of Photoshop that I had learned, I was surprised with the results of my first venture into creating something visual; not from cutouts of a magazine but from the ingredients of my imagination. The need to create was so strong. My mind went into overdrive.
Prior to my disability, I considered myself an architect; practicing a visual art form separate from the sphere of the other visual arts. My artistic abilities were always in service to the making of buildings. Now I found myself creating art on a computer program as if the works of art had been inside me all along, waiting for the day that technology would come around to realize them.
Thinking back, I remember being exposed to modern art as a child, and during my college years I studied both architecture and art history. While at Pratt Institute, I also took a course on Islamic art, which began to open my mind to cultural aesthetics beyond what was familiar in my Western existence.
Probing further, I began to learn more about how other civilizations, both Eastern and Western, integrated art into their societies. And this gave me a new, more inclusive, dynamic outlook when thinking about grand creative constructs.
Unsurprisingly, the “total art” manifesto and practices of the Bauhaus school ended up becoming the greatest influence on me as a designer. For it was through studying the Bauhaus, how I came to fully realize that architecture and visual art could be married as one.
I was fortunate to have had such a myriad of educational experiences, because even though my Photoshop skills were rudimentary in the early days, part of me felt fully prepared to paint, with my resulting first piece being a color intense abstraction closely resembling a vertebra.
Like each of early works that followed revealed a hidden physical and psychological drama playing out in my body.
The richness of the imagery that sprang forth with a limited Photoshop repertoire taught me that more important than whatever tool, it is the imagination which is foremost—being the source of all creativity. However tools do matter, and transitioning from a place of crushing defeat as a result of my limited physical abilities, with Photoshop I began to feel like an explorer ready to take on the unknown. In the spirit of discovery I began to investigate aspects in my art that would give me a way out of my physical self—my pain.
Yet to charter new territory, every explorer needs tools and/or a vessel. Photoshop would be mine.
With conventional desktop printing the maximum size is 8 ½ x 11. This worked for a short while. However Bruce made the observation that I could benefit from having the artwork rendered at a larger size, and we subsequently invested in a large-format digital printer. It didn’t take long before my growing portfolio was printed and pinned up around the house, and finally I could experience the results of my imagination for the first time as I had envisioned the work from conception.
Imagination and technology were beginning to reach a critical mass for me, and revisiting earlier studies I recalled how the whirling dervishes in Islam dance themselves into a trance, seeking spiritual bliss. I also remembered how Tibetan monks make intricate sand Mandalas, only to destroy them shortly thereafter, emphasizing humanity’s transitory nature.
And so I began making spinning works and Mandalas in my own digital way.
Using imagination and technology, I cleared a space within my consciousness to channel in a spirituality that became mesmerizing. In finding myself creating virtual circles, I realized that my own life had come full circle. Like the whirling Dervishes and Tibetan monks, I was using imagination and design to connect the ethereal to the real—the physical to the spiritual.
The mechanical part of making the art–clicking on buttons, inputting values, moving the mouse–often goes into the periphery of my consciousness while working, allowing me to feel like a child again; curious, vibrant and full of life. In art-making, the pain that is always with me temporarily recedes to the background, and for moments I am lifted from physical restraint to unlimited spiritual potentiality.
My body of work requires multiple aspects—technology, intellect and imagination. When all of these elements come together in just the right way, I feel an indescribable sense of well being.
I’m grateful to be living in the digital age with technology facilitating my artistic reinvention, helping me cope with my disability and allowing my imagination to see the light of day; giving me a gateway to learn, grow and inspire.
Incorporating the archetypal circle form, today I’m continuing my techno meditation; an artistic odyssey that began 5 years ago. For I’ve discovered that with passion, vision and intelligence, digital technology can provide a potent platform to spiritual liberation and enlightenment.