The question is not what you look at, but what you see.

— Henry David Thoreau

This week I had to print my Artist Statement for an exhibition and wondered whether it was up to date.

I’d put a lot of work into it last year (as did my business consultant, Danielle Glosser), so was pleased to find the statement still works:

I paint small, alla prima expressionist still lifes in oil on canvas and canvas board. My goal is to capture the workaday things that compose our homes. Most of our days seem like a ceaseless whirlwind of doing; but by applauding the plain and prosaic, my paintings ask the viewer to slow down, step back, stop doing and start looking—if only for a minute.

Stop doing and start looking: that crystalizes my purpose as an artist—both for myself and my viewers.

But it’s easier said than done (were it easy, it wouldn’t be a purpose worth the pursuit).


Looking is difficult enough; stopping poses the even larger challenge—a challenge due to a baked-in cognitive handicap psychologists call “attention residue.”

Attention residue—ruminative thought—is the curse of everyone living outside a monastery. It’s the root cause of the majority of mistakes, accidents, arguments, and omissions, and so of perennial worry to business and government.

Business professor Sophie Leroy defines it as “the extent to which a person’s attention is only partially focused on a current activity, because a prior activity is still holding part of his or her attention.”

When attention residue prevents us from stopping, we can hardly expect to begin looking.

Add to it the maelstrom of noise we live with—brought on by our obsessions with speed, novelty, power, gadgets, and comfort—and looking becomes a tall order indeed.

That’s my aim, nonetheless; to “ask the viewer to slow down, step back, stop doing and start looking—if only for a minute.”

I’m hardly alone in this pursuit. All artists seek to spare us, Saul Bellow once said, the “moronic inferno.”

“Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos, a stillness which characterizes prayer in the eye of the storm.

“Art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”

Above: A Pair of Boots. Oil on canvas. 16 x 12 inches. On exhibit through August 27 at the Newark Arts Alliance. Wayne and Andy. Oil on canvas board. 10 x 8 inches.