Jan Aronson: A Reverence for Nature - HUC-JIR exhibition featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education - June 10 - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Skip to main content

Jan Aronson: A Reverence for Nature - HUC-JIR exhibition featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education - June 10

Main Content
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

A Love Affair With Painting 

"Leaves #38," 2004 (oil on canvas), by Jan Aronson 

Only a fool or an addict continues to make these things called art when the obstacles to "success," a concept not only hard to define but elusive, prove so profound. This devout commitment is at times a holy curse. 

Throughout much of my adolescence I felt like a misfit, and it was only when I started my undergraduate studies in art that this feeling began to lift. Suddenly I was among people who also seemed to be wrestling with similar issues of belonging and identity. The discovery that the painting studio was more than a place to work but actually my spiritual home was a revelation. I related on such a basic level to my fellow artists and in a way that no religious gathering then or now could come close. 

After nearly 40 years the smell of oil paint and turpentine is as delicious today as it was then. My love affair with painting and making art has endured. ... But as in all steamy love affairs, there are times when Eros and Ares descend from Olympus to stir things up and war erupts. Conjure this image: the artist as prizefighter, soldier, sharpshooter, and chess player, trying to outwit a piece of canvas as if it were a live force trying to take control and dominate. At these times I have to find the focus and courage to make the decisions needed to see a painting through to a successful completion. 

When asked why he writes, Vladimir Nobokov answered, "So I can find out what happens." I love this statement because it is so pure and simple sounding, but knowing the writer's work I see it as loaded with unsaid meaning. This "what happens" isn't just about the finished piece, but speaks to the layers of meaning revealed in the process of painting. I never know what a finished painting will really look like. It is only when I've given the painting as much as I possibly can that it really begins to speak for itself. ... 

My paintings reflect my belief that while the forces of the universe are chaotic, they are also balanced. And while this balance is accomplished through powers I cannot explain, I am comfortable with the unknown. I would rather be involved in living and making paintings that comment on this mystery, rather than trying to define it. Capturing the movement of clouds, the organic shapes of decaying leaves; seeing moving water as a veil of gauze; or representing a landscape as a living, breathing, organic whole is my way of embracing the divine. 

The artwork is from the exhibition "Jan Aronson: A Reverence for Nature," at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum through June 30. The text is by the artist, from the exhibition brochure. 

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 51, Issue 40, Page B15

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu