We sit in the art gallery, silent yet full of beauty. The guest artist has promised to make an appearance. The doors open admitting a socially awkward entourage of irreverent natural scientists who use a bullhorn to tell us that they are hiring lab rats to help them find the God particle. Any of us in the gallery who wishes to work for a handsome hourly wage is part of the research team. The lead scientist demonstrates our task. With a blade he scrapes a bit of paint from the canvas of one of the masterpieces. He deposits the paint flakes into a glass dish, adds thinner, mixes to an even consistency then smears it on a slide. “Take your time; prepare small smears; We are looking for something quite small; and you are being paid by the hour.”
The lead scientist tells us to start with those parts of the paintings that most likely would represent God – the light rays filtering through the fir grove, the artist’s signature, or the gilded dome on the distant horizon. A pantheistic looking girl ignores him and starts to scrape some mossy rocks along the banks of a stream. A materialist scrapes gold leaf from the dome, and while the natural scientists peer into their microscopes, he deposits the gold into a baggy stashing it in his pants. Most of the scrapers dutifully smear slides stacking them beside the microscopes, filling out their tedious forms, a grave sense of historical importance on their faces.
I sit on the viewing bench, my scalpel in hand unable to join the others at the canvases. I slide around to face the opposite wall to gaze at the unscathed paintings. I imagine the curator storming into the gallery ordering the guards to escort the desecrators to her office. In time she enters, smiles and chats with the lead scientist, taking her turn at his microscope. I learn later that the natural scientists and the museum have been rewarded an impressive grant to conduct this research together.
The painting directly before me depicts a horizon. The sky is orange and vast. The earth is yellow. The line between is thin and straight. I can see for miles. I wonder how it is that the artist can capture with the variation of two colors and one black line the immensity of nature. I find myself drawn into the painting walking rapidly away from the scraping pigment and the clicking of slides. The minimalist’s world of yellow and orange is focused upon the distant horizon stirring an expectation for some cataclysmic event or an eschatological figure arising from the thin, straight line. From where do these images and longings arise? They are certainly not painted. Are they figments of my imagination? I decide to wait for the artist who will answer the question for me. The artist will explain to me what is not painted but seems to be powerfully present.
On the bench beside me is a brochure, a guide to the exhibit. I read the section describing the painting before me. The artist quotes, “Do you believe because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen but believe.” It is as if the artist anticipated the scraping behind me. While his quote doesn’t completely answer my question, it does make sense as I observe the painting. My strong desire is to walk to the end of the yellow, rise above the line and explore the orange. But then, orange is my favorite color.