What is meditative art?

Henrik Nolte August 2011

“Meditative art” easily brings associations to poetic images of nature: vast deserts, majestic mountains, flowers, oceans, horizons etc. But what if meditative art is simply art produced by someone who meditates?

I thought of this after participating in Acem’s international retreat this summer. A German artist, Henrik Nolte, was among the participants. I went to his web page henriknolte.com and looked through a lot of his pictures. He also presented some of them at the retreat.

Adding colour
Henrik Nolte October 2007I am not sure exactly when he learned Acem Meditation, but I don’t think he meditated yet in 2007, when he started his art blog. Many of his drawings from then are quite nice, but to my mind they also tend to be a little “hard”, and they are undeniably black-and-white.

Henrik Nolte September 2008A year later, he produces quite a few pictures that almost resemble our cliché of what meditative art is, mountains in what to me looks like a semi-Japanese style. Also quite nice. Often the same motif exists in a number of different versions, which adds to the interest.

Henrik Nolte November 2008Then comes colour. First in a few experiments that, to my mind, are not yet awfully exciting. At the beginning, he goes a little back and forth between colour and black-and-white, as if he didn’t yet know what to do.

Henrik Nolte June 2009But then his medium changes. By June 2009 he’s using water colour. The transparency and airiness of this medium gives him a new touch, which gives full room to his sensitivity. Some might charge that the girl to the right is overly sensitive, but I like her.

Henrik Nolte September 2009He retains some of his edge and humour, as in this image of the German prime minister Angela Merkel with a far too big cleft and her Norwegian colleague Jens Stoltenberg. Her cleft was apparently much discussed in Germany at the time.

Henrik Nolte May 2010 Mona LisaHenrik Nolte May 2010 Coca ColaFrom May 2010 he begins to add texts to his pictures, like when he turns Mona Lisa into a call girl saying “Rufen Sie an!” (Call me!), or like the moose entitled “Coca Cola am Himmel” (Coca Cola on the sky).

Henrik Nolte July 2011 parentsHenrik Nolte July 2011 breatheI don’t think it’s a coincidence that right after this summer’s retreat he made two paintings, one with the text “Bei den Eltern leben” (Living with one’s parents – doesn’t look nice), the other “Einmal richtig durchatmen” (For once breathe thoroughly – looks much nicer).

Sensitivity, humour, edge
So what is meditative art? Our clichés seem alienating, as they split off the meditative from the rest of the world. I like much more what I see in Henrik Nolte: an increasing sensitivity, coupled with humour and a certain edge (he still from time to time paints quite brutal people with weapons), most of all an increasing richness of expression. Though I’m sure he’ll disagree…


  1. Karan Sewani

    very nice article, for all of us regular meditators we might have observed the changes in us that meditation brings, sometimes it can’t directly be observed but it is there. we can think of his paintings as the states he may have been in, but the changes show that there is some process going on 🙂

  2. Kaif

    This was a very thoughtful and evocative post. I suppose that meditation intensifies the inner life and the intensification leads us to seek expression, often through artistic means.

    I was quite interested in the paintings made during the retreat. Perhaps artistic work can also be a part of expressing a painful experience that is difficult to accept, of seeing its full inner reality come to fruition, and then letting go of it, at least to some extent. A kind of actualization and also a healing, maybe.

    The Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk once said something like – “when I do not understand something, I decide to make a film on it to understand it.” One could say the same about meditation – when one does not understand an aspect of one’s life, meditation may help in churning the inner realities that surround it and bring out a more rich picture of that aspect.

  3. nick tedstone

    I’ve been reflecting on creativity and artistic expression myself recently and know that meditation seems to free up my capability to be more creative. I consciously observe this after retreats when I feel I see more of the world around me and hence have the capability to express my creative side. I find it hard to just paint but when I do let go I find an expression of my mood comes clearly through differing colours. For example, I felt quite flat in mood the other day and ended up painting a lot of grey i somehow couldn’t get my mind to move into colour it just didn’t feel right. It’s interesting to reflect upon these feelings and what impact meditation can have.

  4. meditation is a process of self purification. it may not be attached to the worldly gains. ver nicely written article.

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