Esoterica, Arcana, Obscura

Posted by on Sep 5, 2018 in blog | No Comments

I suppose you could apply all of those terms to the art I do, but not all are equally accurate.  Lately I have decided that to avoid endlessly trying to translate what I paint into ideas, concepts, or descriptions for the sake of explaining myself … it’s much easier on everyone to simply say, “I paint esoteric objects.” That, I believe, is accurate.

They are not “arcane” because there is nothing (intentionally) secret or mysterious about them. They are not “obscure” because there is nothing vague about them nor am I trying to conceal or cloak some hidden meaning. They are direct. They are immediate. They are simple. They are not however simplistic — in their construction, in their composition or, in what they might have to say. It is on that point, about what they might have to say, that they are “esoteric.” But here’s why that’s not so important.

As I employ the term I am not using “esoteric” with reference to what academics have called “the Western mystery tradition.” Actually quite to the contrary. In my painting I draw heavily on insights and understandings I have gained from my study of and experience with Zen Buddhism and Asian (especially Japanese) insights into beauty. Hence, when I use the term “esoteric” I simply mean that these paintings are likely to be understood by only a small number of people. But … and here’s what’s important to realize: I don’t paint them to be “understood,” I paint them to be lovely and to be enjoyed for what they are not for what they mean.

I want my audience to give up trying to think about them or decipher them conceptually. I want my audience to give up trying to put them into  the “oh, I know what that is” box. I want my audience to approach them with their eye rather than their head. Too often artwork is like elevator music, a background noise to accompany something else. It’s almost as if the moment we recognize what a painting is, the moment we can name it or identify it, we think we’ve seen it. Very likely we have not.

The esoteric objects I paint are not easy to recognize and they don’t, properly speaking, “fit” anywhere easily because that is not the point. You don’t have to know what they mean, you don’t have to recognize the image on the canvas, you don’t have to find an art-historical field to place them in, and you don’t have to look at them and “get it.” You simply have to see what’s there. And that means you need to employ a little “visual intelligence.” They are about being rather than meaning.  Are they lovely? or beautiful? or compelling? or intriguing? –even if you have no idea what you’re looking at? That’s enough. There is meaning in them, cultural or aesthetic depth, if you want to look for it. But that is far less important for me as an artist than having them grasped intuitively as something simply lovely to behold. Beauty offers more than you know.  Soetsu Yanagi asks an important question:

Even should every detail of beauty be accounted for by the intellect, does such a tabulation lead to beauty? Is the beauty that can be neatly reckoned really profound?



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