How can a painting be esoteric?

Reply Mon 15 Aug, 2011 06:30 am
I understand that the act of painting can be considered esoteric, in the sense that often, the painter is deeply absorbed in his composition to the point where s/he is no longer thinking in language, but in purely the colours, shapes and motions of the paintbrush.

However, how can a painting be esoteric? I am aware that non-representational forms of art may not evoke an immediate linguistic response e.g. 'Oh look , it's a cow', but how can Pollock, for instance, be less or more esoteric than Kandinsky when both are sets of abstract colours/lines/shapes?

On wikipedia it says:
Kandinsky's creation of purely abstract work followed a long period of development and maturation of intense theoretical thought based on his personal artistic experiences. He called this devotion to inner beauty, fervor of spirit, and deep spiritual desire inner necessity, which was a central aspect of his art.

So in this sense, is his work esoteric simply because he was aware of this process and termed it 'esoteric' where in the works of other painters the 'esoteric' factor may not have been linguistically realised. Or, does his work just demonstate a strong 'will towards self transcendence' and misappropriation of the term; an inspiration from, and towards nebulous ideas of what it is to be esoteric.

I think I am right in saying that the term is used in a lot of contexts where it is not appropriate, e.g. 'superstitions'.


P.s. I apologise that esotericism seems to be the subject of all my posts, currently, and I also apologise that there is no spell check on this computer and I can't spell.
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Reply Mon 15 Aug, 2011 06:55 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
I did not know that there even was such a word as esotericism.
I propose that we enter and consider another word as an "ism".
"Pizzacism"wherein ones entire experiences, beliefs and intellectual pursuits are meld via a several layered linking of a "base" condition (The pizza crust) and then topped by several layers of "Primary or foundational pizzacistic determinants" followed by several varying (and totally different for each individual) or supplemenatry or secondary pizzacistic determinants

maybe not, I havent had any coffee yet
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Reply Mon 15 Aug, 2011 07:04 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
I think a painting can be esoteric in its subject display. Boscg, for example in his several works of the vanities and deadly sins, used symbols that would be understood by a select few of the laity but many of the clergy.

Wyeth was good at esoteric symbol whenever he presented his genre sunjects like Christinas world or Groundhog Day. The viewer doesnt need to know the full story of these subjects or their locales but an unerstanding of them based on his own views and lectures certainly clears the pictures up.
You can also hve esotericism (I JUST USED IT IN A SENTENCE) in the media and manner or technique. Maybe not every one understands the techniques of scumbling pr even grisaille. But when one sees such works and understands them through training or experience, it does put you into a small group of those clued in.

I always love to look for mixed media and mixed technique works like acrylic and airbrush and encaustic together on one board. To me thats esoterica in action
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Reply Wed 17 Aug, 2011 02:07 pm
@The Pentacle Queen,
I think that the "esoteric" refers to the mysterious or enigmatic subject matter, often, as Farmer says, knowledge monopolized by an inner group. The complement is the exoteric, knowledge that is the common property of the general public. I agree that in painting it refers mainly to subject matter. In the case of purely abstract art, I think Kandinsky was trying too hard to be "deep" or spiritual, as it were. Abstract art can, I suppose, express or reflect the less than conscious impulses of the artist (as in surrealism). That in itself is a mysterious process. I also like to try to figure out how mixed media artists do what they do. That's more like solving a practical puzzle than uncovering a secret or hidden meaning of a painting's subject matter. .
By the way, I agree with Pentacle Queen that the word is often used inappropriately, just as "mysticism" is misused in a range of bizzare ways, just as the image of the sitting Buddha is often present in movies about occult themes.
I once rebelled against the misuse of the Buddha's image. In a "swapshop antique store I encounterd a lamp attached to the figure of the Buddha. I asked the owner to notify me if he ever comes across a lamp sticking out of a Jesus figure. I sounded so sincere that he didn't know if he had grounds for offense.
The Pentacle Queen
Reply Wed 17 Aug, 2011 05:09 pm
Yes, I definitely think that 'secret knowledge' is one permutation of what 'esoteric' can mean. An 'agreed truth' within a small community. I don't think this is the 'purer' meaning we've been talking of on the other threads though, which is a self-dissapation through the absence of language.

I thought surrealism was based on a conscious understanding of the sub-conscious. Presenting things that we are normally familiar with to look 'other'; inverted anthropology.

Here is what I wrote today, I'm just going to write it all out without rephrasing it as questions, regardless of how self conscious I am about it being wrong, just in case anyone has any points they could add or reading they could suggest:

'Spirituality/esotericism' as the 'will towards self-transcendence': an extended performance metaphor in an artist's practice, e.g Skriabin or Kandinsky.
When framed with the lust towards this 'other' an artist's emotional invlovment with his/her own creation is heightened; tones, shades, forms, shapes are empowered and therefore can be more easily wrought by the emotions. Thus the will 'towards the other' or lust for the 'beyondness of things creates the best platform for artistry. The 'other world' which lies beyond this world that I mention isn not lucid in the mind of the artist, and cannot be 'truly' represented. If it could e represented then this would destroy the point - for it is its nebulous character that allows it so many permutations in the minds of those who desire it. Rather, it is a dreamed world where one feels form, shape, colour as they do their own body; uninhibited life-force. It is the disillusion of the 'barrier' between the phenomenal and noumenal world on an experimental and sensual level.
Therefore, all artworks that attempt to 'break through' to this world fail; the most they can do is point towards it or 'touch' it. The arts that service the mindset the best are music and abstract painting since they are non-representational.

Reply Thu 18 Aug, 2011 12:30 pm
@The Pentacle Queen,
I think the problem with applying the word "esoteric" to visual art that it is more likely to imply "obscure" (as in Private Eye "Pseuds Corner"), rather than implying "knowledge limited to a few". There is a grey area in art criticism where agreed visual iconography merges with the speculative or the mysterious, and this can give rise to nonsense as per the Da Vinci Code. On the other hand, since esoteric philosophers stress the "ineffable" with respect to their "message", it is rational to speculate that that non verbal media might be an alternative mode of illustration. A search on Rudolph Steiner's views on art, or maybe an investigation of calligraphy might provide some linkage in this respect.
Reply Fri 19 Aug, 2011 08:00 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
Tibetan Buddhist ‘thangka painting’ is described as esoteric. Do you know about it? A random Google search brought up this site: http://www.rajiveanand.com/tibetan_thangka_painting.html

The Notting Hill group of mediators will sit in a room with some of these paintings on the walls (some members of the group have created thangkas using traditional methods either for this group or other groups in the same community). Some types of meditation visualize these images as part of the technique which points out universals such as love, compassion and wisdom and the union of the three enlightened skillful means.
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Reply Mon 22 Aug, 2011 07:06 am
Good post, fresco.
Nail on the head.
Reply Tue 23 Aug, 2011 12:57 am
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