I went to google today to do a search and came upon a field of pale stripes in place of the word “Google.”  Who are we honoring today, I wondered?  It’s Agnes Martin, a 20th century American desert-dwelling painter of sublime abstracts. Her 102nd birthday would have been today.

Agnes Martin’s work is hugely respected; though her very minimalist canvases aren’t to everyone’s taste, I’ve always liked her work. I clicked on her name floating over the wash of colored stripes, and then on the youtube video that came up.  Yes, I remembered watching that a few years back.   I clicked on Images on the search page which, being a visual person, I often do.  Martin’s work is compromised on the screen, I thought.  In person and close up, the pale washes of color and careful tracings of pencil line across the canvas are very sensual.

Close up of an Agnes Martin painting at Seattle Art Museum


I just returned from a few days in the desert myself.  I stayed in Joshua Tree, California, just outside Joshua Tree National Park, and I spent most of my time exploring the park and taking pictures.


I love how a google search can open up new paths to unseen realms.  This morning’s search meandered past Agnes Martin and stalled at an amusing detour through the odd world of Pataphysics.  I eventually settled in to an essay from the Brooklyn Rail (an excellent Arts journal) that I want to share.

It’s about the importance of eating culture.

What? Well, the essay ends with a Rumi poem titled “Eating Poetry” and focuses on what art is, art’s place in our lives, and whether it’s OK to like or dislike the art that you do like, or dislike.  The author, Phong Bui (publisher of the Brooklyn Rail) asks us to bring our “honest experience” to each work of art we confront.

As simple as that may sound, I think that an honest reaction stripped of the accumulated ideas we have absorbed from media and placed on top of our own heads can be elusive these days.  But it’s well worth the effort – as Agnes Martin said in a 1997 interview, you need to know exactly what you want:  “I paint with my back to the world” she explained.

The desert seems well suited to the act of turning away from the busy world and returning to one’s own honest experience.





I will post more photos from the desert soon, including a number of pictures of Noah Purifoy’s fascinating outdoor sculpture installation in Joshua Tree.


  1. Don’t you just love the Google Doodles? I learn so much about people who’s work I’m not often familiar with. Your post is a lovely tribute, and your photographs are beautiful!

  2. These are some very interesting and beautiful images. I think that honest reactions are important to the appreciation of art. But on the other hand, our understanding is based on experience and on what we’ve learned from others… including what we’ve read and what we’ve seen in the field. It seems to me that it would be a mistake to approach a new work of art with a clear slate.

    • I’m bowing in your direction, Shimon! Thank you. Your willingness to take time to think and respond is appreciated. I suppose a balance can be struck between clearing the mind and using what’s there!

  3. You’ve captured the nature of the desert in it’s dry splendor, but that header shot is yummy! I do try not to get lost in cyberspace, but sometimes it just happens and then the day has disappeared. 😉

    • I was lucky to be there for the full moon – I have a few more photos of it – all without a tripod – I’m so bad, I left it in the car because I just hate using it. And I know some shots would have been so much better with it. Oh well. I do appreciate what I have, and one of these days I’ll get into the habit of taking the tripod. Getting lost in cyberspace is a pleasure that just needs to be used sparingly, right?

    • Right about now, that warmth feels like it’s tantalizingly close, but still we have a way to go before we can feel it. There are junipers in the desert there with berries that I picked and crushed and inhaled – intoxicating

  4. Love those cacti marching through the desert light Lyn. All beautiful shots and so much to think about regarding the art of honest experience, or rather the honest experience of art.

  5. Funny I should drop by your blog today because Agnes Martin is my absolute favourite artist, ever (I especially like her Holiday series) and i am intrigued by the way she talked of her head being a vessel for artistic thoughts to land in rather than consciously ‘think’ up artistic ideas.
    Your desert pictures are stunning, in fact Im going to have another look right now. Thanks for sharing them x

    • I thought I remembered you had posted about her. I don’t know her well enough to know about that idea of the vessel, but wouldn’t it have been a valuable experience to have been able to sit at her feet and just listen for an hour? Such a singular vision she had, and she stayed so true to it. Thanks for your comments – it’s a pleasure!

  6. You present the desert in a different way… A matter-of-fact, unassuming way. As it is. I came back to see these again because the images stuck in my head. They fascinate me, Lynn.

  7. I started to write something BB but it just sounded way too much waffle …
    So would just like to be succinct and say love these desert pictures and your thought provoking post 🙂
    Enjoyed the Agnes M link .

  8. Your images of the desert capture the spirit and soul of the place Lynn, the back lighting in the first image just glows but I love the black and white images they capture the starkness and solitude that is in a desert. Now I am going to google Agnes Martin and explore her work.

    • How terrific! I’m glad you enjoyed the images. As for the Agnes Martin paintings, I still think they are so much better in a gallery setting, where you can be in their physical presence and just soak up the feeling. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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