drawing by Gale Antokal
What is meant here by “aesthetic thought” has nothing to do with what ordinarily would be conjured in reference to contemporary art—or art at all. I heard this phrase more than twenty years ago while listening to Lobsang Rapgay
. Rapgay is a psychologist, not an artist. More to the point, he belongs to the Yellow Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism. When I heard those words, my interest, which was already engaged, jumped a notch. What did he mean? He didn’t explain it and went on to say, “in the West, we’re too fatigued to engage in aesthetic thought.” What did that
mean—that we’re too fatigued
to engage in this kind of thought? He didn’t explain that either, but his words made a lasting impression; they had the unmistakable ring of truth.
Rapgay was one of the speakers at a symposium in San Francisco. The topic was “What Is Your Practice?” Other speakers included Dean Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral, Michael Murphy from the Esalen Institute, Linda Cutts from the Green Gulch Zen Center and others. Rapgay went on to say that “when aesthetic thought reaches a certain level, it can bring the numinous down into circulation in a culture.” He added, “A culture cannot survive without that.”
I was too shy to ask for clarification in those days, and this was before I’d begun publishing an art magazine. But later, when I found myself interviewing artists, sometimes I’d quote Rapgay. Aesthetic thought must have something to do with art, I thought—something rare and, at the same time, felt or recognized. When William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there,” it must have been close to what Rapgay was talking about.
Sometimes magic takes place in art. We know that, but where’s the language to describe it? It reminds me of a quote from Wittgenstein: “What cannot be said, can sometimes be shown.” Maybe there was a relationship between this magic and what Lobsang meant by “aesthetic thought.”
I share these reflections because Lobsang’s words, which I’d never understood, finally propelled me to action. With Jacob Needleman’s help, I called Lobsang in Los Angeles. Would he be willing to meet with me? I had a few questions.
We’re delighted to have the resulting interview. While aesthetic thought, as spoken about in these pages, is not meant as a theme, it’s something to ponder in the context of this issue.
Our cover image is by Gale Antokal
. We have a portfolio of her contemplative, poetic drawings. Then there’s our interview with Los Angeles playwright Murray Mednick
. “Experimental theater” is not quite the right phrase for his work, but there’s no convenient alternative. Murray has written and directed over seventy plays. “In the East, they understand what I’m doing,” he says. This is a fascinating conversation.
hawks have never been more beautiful. She talks about the complexities of their making and shares the story of why they’ve been her central subject for over twenty-five years.
After becoming a physician at UCSF, Zach Pine
left the medical profession to return to his art practice. The decision was triggered by the death of his stepfather. The heart of Zach’s art practice is collaborative work in nature; it fulfills the love of service that led him into medicine. Lately, he’s been inspiring people all over the world with his “sand globes.” Their deceptively simple poetry is powerful. Next time you’re at the beach, you’ll want to make one.
And Ron Hobbs is with us again, this time with three stories
. We have a firsthand report of encouraging developments in China from Zilong Wang. (An interview with Zilong can be found on our website.) Lea Redmond
gives thanks for all our blessings, and Indigo Animal and friends process the mysterious events at the piazza della Minerva
. Welcome to issue #35. —rw