Humanist Art: An Interview with Painter CHEN

What is the future of humanist art? HNN talks with painter Herb Pleiman, also known as CHEN, who currently has his artwork on eBay with proceeds benefiting the American Humanist Association.

Is there a future for specifically humanist or secular art? With thousands of impressive artworks dedicated to religion or depicting religious scenes, how can humanists build a world of art for ourselves?

HNN explores these questions in an interview with humanist artist Herb Pleiman, also known as CHEN. Herb’s first painting on eBay, “GlassMusic Piece,” recently sold, with proceeds benefiting the American Humanist Association. Herb will soon post a new artwork, which will be available for sale at beginning Sunday, February 26.

HNN: How long have you been an artist?

 Herb: I have had two major passions during my life, science and the arts. I am both a health practitioner and an artist. I’ve been creating paintings for fifty years now. I spend about 50/50 time on both endeavors.

HNN: Tell us about the painting you had up on eBay that recently sold. How do you view your own work?

Herb: The piece offered as a fundraiser auction, “GlassMusic Piece” is a recent watercolor. I’ve done at least two other works honoring Philip Glass. When it comes to non-figurative abstracts, I leave it to the individual viewer to have their own emotional response to a work and draw their own conclusions. I just happen to be a highly visual person, and my abstractions, I would hope, give some reflection of the individual uniqueness of my mind and life experience, in that regard.

HNN: How did you hear about the American Humanist Association?

Herb: A friend who knew my philosophical views, suggested several years ago, that I look into the AHA’s magazine. Subscribing and subsequently reading it, was like stepping into a room of highly intelligent and articulate people; a real thrill. Because I am well read in science, it has somewhat disappointed me that many of the adults I encounter still maintain and hold onto a child’s view of reality and the cosmos. But I can understand why, from an emotionally supportive standpoint.

HNN: Do you think there will ever be “humanist art” that rivals religious art?

Herb: That is an interesting question or assumption. I don’t think there is any reason that a humanist or a religious person are in competition, when it comes to the production of art. It is more a matter of the passion and temperament of the individual. It is possible that a larger percentage of humanists could be more analytical with a preference toward verbal skills such as writing, and not as motivated to create visual art. But the quality of the art, has nothing to do with whether one is a believer, agnostic or atheist.

HNN: Who’s your favorite artist?

Herb: It would be hard to choose particular favorite artists. My own adventure in art began as a study of the history of art and all the styles and artistic movements. In my developing career I copied the styles of masters from various periods. Early on I did a lot of detailed surrealistic works. Much later, I broke from that tradition when I encountered eastern philosophy. I then started doing abstracts which were sessions of “being in the moment.” And to reflect that method, and serve as a mental reminder, I began signing those works as CHEN.

I have seen the works of so many superb and talented individuals, I would not want to choose favorites, excepting that I have a higher regard for skilled Abstractionists. I do think, I am in a better position than the general population, to appreciate what makes for an excellent non-figurative abstract, and respond more strongly to such a work.

HNN: Do you think there’s a future in specifically secular or humanist art?

Herb: I have a feeling that many, highly creative contemporary artists are secular by nature, excepting perhaps those who favor producing religious or spiritual works. A good clue may be how critical or satirical a particular artist may be, and to what extent they question or challenge the values or more traditional aspects of their own cultures, in the art that they create. Art does have numerous roles: to please, to inspire, to criticize and to provoke; and from an artist’s perspective and approach, “to each his own.”

The American Humanist Association thanks Herb Pleiman for donating the proceeds of his artwork sales to us! To learn more about CHEN and his artwork, visit his website at