WHY ON EARTH DOES GOD HAVE TO PAINT?
by Rafael Chodos. Based on Selected Works and Writings of Junko Chodos. Giotto Multimedia, 2009. 336 pages.
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BOOK REVIEW BY PETER GIMPEL:
The coffee table art book, traditionally the prestigious but impenetrable refuge of stuffy art critics the best of whose texts are often unjustly and ironically condemned to serve as drab wallpaper to the beautiful reproductions they were intended to elucidate has now been superseded. Hail the art book in which paintings and text form an indelible bond of passion, wonder, discovery and self discovery! The inventor of this welcome innovation is none other than Rafael Chodos (already praised on this site as the author of a monumental legal reference work on Fiduciary Duties), who has lately co-authored with celebrated Japanese artist, Junko, a jewel of an art book entitled, Why on Earth Does God Have to Paint?
In all truth, the idea of the art book as literature is not without precedent—notably Henry Miller’s delightful “To Paint is to Love Again,” in which that icon of literary sexual liberation and master of American prose recounts with chaste and joyous passion his love affair with watercolor painting. But Miller’s approach to painting was that of a child, exulting in the pure sensations of color and form and the simple joy of creation. Rafael goes much deeper, seeking, as the title suggests, the purpose and underlying meaning of the very act of creating. Why does G-d have to paint? What is it that impels a caveman or a Giotto or a Junko to paint—as though G-d needed someone to paint through? The question is enriched by a counterpoint of Junko’s own commentary, interlaced with excerpts from her diaries.
Rafael doesn’t actually answer this question, but by posing it opens up a whole new approach to the appreciation of modern art. The unexpected circumstance that Junko happens to be Rafael’s beloved wife of 38 years, and that Rafael confesses to being no more than a novice in matters of art only enhances our interest. This is not merely because Junko is a great artist, but also because Rafael’s years-long quest to understand Junko’s mind and her work gives him, and us, a unique perspective into the creative process witnessed not merely as an act but as a way of life. Rafael sees this process as beginning in the artist and continuing (rather than ending) in the viewer; whereas for Junko, the process really begins with the object—or “visitant”—that happens to catch her eye, enter her consciousness, and become one with her—working on her, changing her, and even healing her. Perhaps because Junko sees the finished work as a medium, and the viewer’s role as penetrating through to its transfigured essence, and perhaps because of the resemblance of that penetration to meditation, Junko calls her art “centripetal.”
Indeed, viewers of Junko’s art often confess to having been drawn in to something quite beyond the extraordinary colors, forms and media of which it is comprised. There is no convenient way to explain the powerful effect Junko’s creations can produce on our emotions, for what she creates does not typically belong to our world, but almost exclusively to hers. The wonder is that in contemplating her works face to face, as I did some years ago at the Long Beach Museum of Art—works which can strike one at first as inscrutable and overwhelming—I was transformed into something of an empath, able—almost beyond endurance—to feel the awe, the pain, the love, the torments, horrors, and aspirations of another being.
Surely this is what great art is and does. And it is here that I disagree with the term “centripetal” as a characterization of Junko’s art. For all great art, whether visual, musical or literary, shares this quality of drawing the reader/viewer/listener out of him or herself and into a brave new world of alien yet intimate revelation. As I have been moved by Junko, so have I been moved by Van Gogh, by Klee, and by Botticelli. It makes no difference to me that in Junko, or in Klee, the conventional frame of reference has been surpassed or even destroyed. It is not in the conventions that poetry, art, or greatness are to be found. And while I agree with Rafael that Junko’s work has little in common with the deconstructionist wave that swept over art from cubism—really from impressionism—onward to the present, I see the difference vastly more in terms of inspiration than mere psychology of perception. For whereas Junko’s contemporaries generally labor in a world devoid of hope, meaning and purpose , Junko, having mastered all the latest, most sophisticated tools of artistic technology, extracts pathos, urgency and regeneration from even the most humble detritus of nature and civilization. This places her squarely within the humanistic tradition so boorishly tabooed by our times.
Thus, for me it is not in Rafael’s conclusions but in his explorations that the uncommon value of the book lies. Among them, his tenderly searching account of how and from whom he learned to love and strive to understand art—not just Junko’s, but all Art—form pages worthy to be anthologized and handed down through the ages.
I Remembered in the Night Your Name,
Varda Branfman, Jerusalem, Carob Spring Foundation, 2003. 154 pages. Price: US$15.00 (includes shipping & handling).
Varda Branfman, an American Olah whose inspirational writings have attracted a wide audience in Jewish Weeklies and anthologies, has arranged a fine selection of her essays and poems into a small but thoughtful volume that reflects autobiographically and poetically the transformation of an alienated young secular woman into a devoutly observant and joyous mother of children. As suggested by the beautiful title (a verse from one of David's most vibrant Psalms), the transformation was not easy. In the process, Mrs. Branfman blossomed into one of a small but noteworthy group of outstanding Israeli-American women writers and poets who write proudly, passionately, and honestly--and with refreshing modesty--of their lives as frum Jewish women, wives and mothers.
Because she was born and raised in the United States, Varda. Branfman's experiences will strike a familiar chord in the hearts of many of her American readers. Once a well-regarded English teacher at a New England environmental college, Mrs. Branfman was never happy until she realized that what she was really looking for was her Jewish soul, and that to find it, she needed only to open herself to the spiritual heritage of her People.
The perfect antidote for the stereotyping of Torah-observant women, I Remembered in the Night Your Name is a powerful and moving book by a gifted and perceptive writer. Key reading for understanding the Ba'al Teshuva movement and the true status of women in Judaism.
The Law of Fiduciary Duties, by Rafael Chodos, Esq. Blackthorne Legal Press.1596 pages. ISBN: 0-9704042-0-4. Price: $199.00; with CD-ROM (Windows only), $250.00; CD-ROM only (ISBN: 0-9704042-1-2); price: $135.00. Prices quoted include California resident sales tax plus shipping and handling. Yes, a legal treatise, and a classic—the first of its kind—but also a fascinating, accessible, and relevant companion for lay readers in all areas of academia, business and human relations. "This work has all the qualities of a fine treatise on the law: it is thorough, scholarly, easy to read, and practical." —Joseph R. Grodin, Former Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court. "Insightful inquiry into the fundamental duties of civil responsibility in human affairs. The definitive work in the field." —Prof. Alfred E. Osborne, Jr., Anderson School at UCLA.
On the Way to Jerusalem: a Collection of Short Stories by Mordechai Kramer. 184 pages. ISBN: 965-90373-0-9. Price: $12.95. BKS Publications. A starkly poetic and grittily intimate vision of "the way to Jerusalem"—in Israel and elsewhere. Told with disarming frankness and genuine warmth by one of Israel's most gifted writers
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