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Swallowed by Knowledge
Oil on panel
30 x 40 x 2 inches
Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City
After a life pursuing knowledge, Qohelet concludes: "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." [i]
The Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard criticized the work of his predecessor, German metaphysician Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who believed humans could arrive at objective truth through a rational systematic approach to knowledge. [ii] Instead, Kierkegaard emphasized that we are temporal and finite beings, and the best we can do is with 'fear and trembling' take a leap of faith.
The barren Icelandic black sand landscape in my painting is metaphorical for the epistemic nihilism Qohelet experiences in his quest for understanding. Certainly there is merit in studying broadly, and logically evaluating a plethora of truth claims. Being well-read is part of a rich and full life. Fine novels ignite our imaginations, and books about history, science, religion, and politics, expand our horizons.
However, no one can possibly read every book written and assert omniscience (all-knowing). Contrary to what our 'smart' phones would have us believe, we are sadly no more the wiser! We are experiencing what Charles Taylor termed the “Nova Effect,” a rapidly increasing array of life philosophies that are now on offer. [ii] Qohelet discovers that what we really need is not additional information, but true wisdom. Some of the most diabolical eugenicists and dictators were (and are) well-educated individuals. When we seek to find our entire purpose and meaning through the acquisition of knowledge we self-delude, rejecting a relationship with our omniscient Creator––the Light that can help us discern true wisdom from the wisdom of this age.
Viewers of this painting may notice the allusion to the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale, evidenced in Qohelet's place within the skeletal rib cage of a massive Sperm Whale. These intelligent mammals have brains six times the size of humans yet, like us, they suffer the same fate of death: "the dust returns to the ground it came from." [iv]
The Elf Owl perched atop Qohelet's head recalls Celtic tales of saints such as St. Kevin of Glendalough (498-618). Living in complete solitude in the wilderness, he was in such earnest contemplation and prayer that a blackbird built a nest in his open hands. [v] The insertion of the curious owl evokes the irony and humour indicative of when we get 'lost in a book' oblivious to the world around us... as Qohelet is often prone to doing!
[i] Ecclesiastes 12:12
[ii] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 423.
[ii] John Caputo, How to Read Kierkegaard. 12-13, 27.
[iii] Ecclesiastes 12:7
[iv] Tracy Balzer, Thin Places. 114.
Born in 1995 in Moscow, Russia, Josh Tiessen is an international award-winning artist based near Toronto, Canada. Tiessen is best known for his hyper-surreal shaped oil paintings, which take up to 1700 hours to complete, and reflect the interaction between the natural world and human-made structures, drawing upon his studies in philosophy and theology.
As a young artist Tiessen was designated one of the world's top ten prodigy artists by Huffington Post, and the only known male art prodigy in North America by Dr. J. Ruthsatz, global prodigy expert. As a teenager he was juried in as the youngest member of International Guild of Realism among foremost realist artists from around the world, Artists for Conservation and Society of Animal Artists, elite groups of the top nature and wildlife artists worldwide. Art Renewal Center designated him Associate Living Master, and New York based gallery Jonathan LeVine Projects awarded him First Place from 2000 artists in their international competition Search for the Next Great Artist. LeVine presented the emerging artist’s debut international solo exhibition “Streams in the Wasteland” in May of 2019.
Mentored by masters like acclaimed Canadian artist Robert Bateman, Tiessen has exhibited his work since 2006 in over 100 exhibitions including the National Gallery of Canada and prominent galleries in the United States. He has sold over 150 original works and hundreds of limited edition giclée prints to private and corporate Canadian and international collectors.
Featured over 200 times in the press & media (Forbes, American Art Collector, International Artist), speaking and teaching at 60 venues, and making 90 invited art donations to charitable organizations, Tiessen established the Arts for a Change Foundation. This prolific artist has garnered over 60 awards and honours including International Guild of Realism Creative Achievement, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and Canada's Top 20 Under 20, for his artistic accomplishment and philanthropic work.