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 CENTRIPETAL ART / MATRIX OF GROWTH
 
 
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ART and MARRIAGE
 
Marriage is one of the themes that runs through the book, Centripetal Art/Matrix of Growth. The author shows how his wife's seriousness as an artist had a deep effect on their marriage.



The image to the right is from the Esoteric Buddhism series, Ecstasy (2001). Click on it to see a larger view. The original is a collage of computer prints and acrylic on mylar, three panels, over all dimensions: 12 feet high x 13.5 feet wide.

 
From the Foreword
Over the course of the last thirty-seven years, as my marriage to the artist JUNKO CHODOS has lasted longer and become deeper, my relationship with her art has intensified. From the outset I encouraged her to dedicate herself to her art, but this was only out of respect for her own passionate connection to it: I had no idea whether her work was any good and I could not know whether it would have meaning to anyone else in the world but her. At the time, I identified myself as a person who knew nothing about art and had no interest in it. My creative interests lay in computers and law, in literature and philosophy, and in music: art was something for other people. So when I saw that Junko identified herself as an artist I wanted to support her and encourage her, but I had to do that from the outside.
 
From Chapter Two
In 1968, when Junko was twenty-eight years old, she emigrated to America. A few years later she married me—who am Jewish and the son of a rabbi; and so Junko’s social involvement with religious matters did not quite end when her first marriage ended. Junko had been an artist before I met her: she was already working ten hours a day in her studio, and her creative urge was so strong, so overwhelming, so out of proportion to everything else in her life that it often brought her to a deep altered state of consciousness and manifested itself as various kinds of undiagnosable sickness. Writing many years later, Junko described what was happening at that time this way: “I was swimming in a rapid river against the current. I was hearing a roaring sound behind me all through. I knew that was the waterfall at the end of the river where everything falls into the unfathomable abyss. I knew it was the creative force of the universe, the vortex of the chaos. But it swallows you up if you come too close to it. We humans are not made for it. But you can pick up small pieces of chaos in the river and give them order and meaning and put them into a small world which you create. That is the swimming I was doing, against the current, away from the abyss. That swimming is the action of creating art itself. If you want to stay in the river that is the only way you can survive.”
 
From Chapter Four
Junko’s struggle with these five major developments of the mid-twentieth century which I have just described—psychology, multi-culturalism, fascism, existentialism, and the atomic bomb—took place in her studio, of course; but it overflowed her studio and spilled into our marriage and also into our religious views, and I myself was drawn into that struggle. When we were in our forties, Junko started seeing a therapist; and soon after she started, it became clear to me that I had to start seeing a therapist of my own. I was surprised that Junko, being Japanese, could tolerate the kind of open, candid interchange that therapy requires because the cultural chasm between Japan and America was widest at that point. After all, the Western tradition of the “confessional” faiths, built on the notion of a relationship with a personal God, is not part of Japanese culture. But Junko’s multiculturalism, characterized by her insistent struggle toward integrity and individuation, showed itself capable of bridging even that chasm. ... The commitment to therapy is in fact the same commitment which is at the foundation of Junko’s centripetal art: a commitment to go deep into her center, a commitment to a sharp, introspective, analytical view of the self, a commitment to complete honesty, and a commitment to avoiding complacency. This commitment is a strong weapon against narcissism, and Junko, who had suffered as a victim of the malignant narcissism of her family, was already comfortable with it. ... Junko’s refusal to be complacent about what I was ready to see as minor problems in our marriage gave her the courage to confront them—and to force me to confront them.
 
From the Afterword
Seven years ago Junko invited me into her studio to show me the works she had just completed: the Esoteric Buddhism series. Ecstasy, the main piece in this series is a three-panel work so huge that it could not even hang on the wall of the studio she had in those days: the bottom of it draped along the floor. I found the whole series overwhelming and after looking at the works for several minutes, I told Junko that I found them to be the most disturbing works she had ever created. She asked me why, and I said, “Because they are so clearly polytheistic.” I was surprised to hear myself say such a thing. Even though Junko and I come from very different religious backgrounds, our household has never been the scene of religious disputations. To the contrary: it seemed to me from the day I met her that Junko understood what I found beautiful and essential in Judaism—more so than any of my so-called Jewish friends whose relationship to their religion is based in obedience, or in nostalgia, or in tribalism; Junko’s perception of Judaism was colored by none of those things. For my part, I have always felt moved by the refined purity of Shinto, and even in my college days I had found Buddhism to be an attractive “dietary supplement” to the western monotheistic religions. ... I would not say that Junko and I learned how to compromise and live with each other, I as a monotheist and she as a polytheist; I as a western Jew, she as a Japanese Christian-Shinto-Buddhist; I as a lawyer, she as an artist. Instead, we both became transformed so that I am no longer the kind of Jew, monotheist, or lawyer that I was before, and she is no longer the kind of Japanese, Shinto, Buddhist, Christian, polytheist that she was before. Our identities have become fluid—not fixed. The intermixing of cultures, backgrounds, and identities goes far, far beyond “cohabitation” or “accommodation”: in the quest for integrity, the coarse matter with which we began has been refined and purified and sublimated and recombined, and something brand new has come out. It is as if we have leaped into a furnace—the kind of furnace the alchemists used in their unceasing efforts to turn lead into gold: the furnace called the “athanor”—an Arabic word, cognate to “tanur” in Hebrew, meaning “furnace.” Things are put into this furnace and left there for a prescribed time, and then pulled out—and they are changed. What is marriage after all, but such a furnace? Of course it is many things. It is an apotheosis of erotic love, and of friendship. It is the locus of intimacy made possible by the process of separation and individuation: “therefore shall man leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It is the union of opposites when it is between man and woman, and it is the formation of the matrix in which children can be raised. It is a contract and an exchange of vows, and a commitment so deep that it can be called a sacrament. And it is a fertility rite which gives joy to the community which it helps to perpetuate. It is of course all these things. But I see it also as the athanor, the furnace into which we leap every day and from which we emerge always changed and ennobled.
 
                     
 
 
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