Exploring the meeting of art and spirituality with Agnes Denes, Tyree Guyton, Ned Kahn, and Lily Yeh yielded conversations as distinct as these artists’ works, yet each dialogue reflected the same truth. Despite marked differences, they share precisely those characteristics—creative force, hunger for awakening, deep sense of purpose, and reluctance to settle for the superficial or conventional—that drive the larger search for meaning, shaping countless spiritual journeys. Talking with them, I recalled the notion of “radical amazement” that Abraham Joshua Heschel expounds in God in Search of Man: the greatest hindrance to larger awareness “is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental clichés. Wonder or radical amazement, the state of maladjustment to words and notions, is therefore a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of that which is.”

These artists share a transformative intention: to awaken those who interact with their art from the trance of ordinary reality into deeper awareness and wonder. Whether or not they identify with a religion, all four artists see their art as spiritual practice. And all are mindful of the delicate—sometimes vexed—nature of religion and spirituality in public discourse. When I asked Lily Yeh whether the spiritual ideas that animate her life and work were shared with community collaborators, she explained, “It’s certainly not in the public dialogue. It’s not in what people talk about. We experience it in action.”

One of Ned Kahn’s core intentions is coming up “with a modern Buddhist art that is about the essence of things and the processes that underlie things,” an aim as explicitly spiritual as aesthetic, yet seldom part of his public self-presentation. He described being asked how his work ties in with spirituality: “I was fumbling through a response, and I saw this local politician get up and leave. He just did a beeline for the exit when this California artist started talking about spirituality. It’s much easier for me to create an artwork and let people get whatever they get out of it than going down the slippery slope of trying to verbalize what it is…. Everything I’ve done, I feel like people could completely grasp it with just their senses, just their eyes and their ears and hands. I’m completely happy with that.”