ESOTERIC COLLECTING Hugh M. Moss • Editors' Note.. This lecture was de– livered at tbe Seattle convenUon on Tuesday, October 27, 1998. Introduction The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'esoteric' as 'designed for, or appropriate to an ilmer circle of disciples.' In other words: the inner, secret meaning of a subject l avail– able only to initiates. The study of anything, for whatever reason, in– volves a progression from obviolls, surface meaning to more funda– mental levels of comprehension and these inner layers of meaning form the esoteric core of any pur– suit. It is, in fact, the same process that fuels the entire evolution of human consciousness. \Ve move as a species from the obvious to the arcane, from simple, surface mean– ing, to hidden inner truth and it is the same for individuals in any chosen pursu it. Nor is esoterica confined to the spiritual realm, although it is the path that leads directly to it in any pursuit. Esoteric sex exists alongside esoteric reli– gion (in fact, in Tantric Buddhism, the one comes close to becoming the other) so there is no reason not to recognize and aspire to the inner secrets of collecting as readily as to the inner secrets of religion. I only hope that by dealing with collecting rather than sex, [ shall not disappoint you too much. I have to bear in mind the average age of our membership and uy to keep the deaill toll from my lec– tures to a bare minimum. In the past we have explored to– gether the nature of various aspects of the arts and I am sure most of you are reasonably fanliliar with my theoretical perspective, so I will only briefly summarize those points which impact upon our present subject. The first paint, on which I am in general agreement with most art theorists, is that our arts are a potent form of communication, capable of carrying vital cultural in– formation across boundaries of space and time. By reading the cul– tural content of a neolithic Gansu pot) for instance, the initiate can open a window onto a people who slipped into history more than three thousand years ago. A second point is the expansion of the term 'the arts' to incorporate not only the undisputed arts such as music, paiming and sculpture, but any creative response to experi– ence. We can grudgingly accept this extension in such plu'ases as the 'An of War' but i1lere is still a ten– dency to dismiss as 'not an' any creative activity of which we disap– prove or which seems too banal. For oilr purposes (Dday l~t us ac– cept that it is possible to approach any pursuit anisticaily and that an relates more to how we do some– thing i1lan to what we do. These are two entirely different i1lings and to avoid confusion in the alt world, it is worth bearing that in mind. Thirdly, our arts are not only a static record of consciousness at any given point in time, although they are that tOOl they are a vital part of the process of how we think, of how we evolve consciousness. The fourth and last point is that the art object is not the end prod– uct of art. Objects of art contain coded messages capable of carrying vital information down the cen– turies l but they are not in them– selves 'the art,' they are only a part of a much broader and infinitely flexible fabric of meaning made up of the entire process of art, which 5 includes everything relating to the artist, to i1le art object and to the audience. Although the physical work of alt may be a convenient bridge between artist and audience, it is not, in itself, the whole process of art. To render i1le art object meaningful requires, quite apart from a visionary artist with some– thing to express, a creatively responding audience. The creative audience has to understand, tluough the work of art, what the artist was expressing l decipher the culwral content of that expression and l by reaching for its inner signif– icance, use it as a vehicle for the expansion of individual, and thereby collective, consciousness. That is the altj the entire process, Its end product is the expansion of conSCiousness, not a physical work of art. This last point leads us directly to the esoteric side of collecting and by now, of course, it becomes ob– vious that collecting is also capable of becoming an art form with no greater or lesser limitations than, say, painting. If all creative endeavor is aimed at the expanSion of con– sciousness, or enlightenment (how– ever one cares to define that), then the deeper) inner meaning of any pursuit must be its more profound aspect. Esoterica, therefore, equates to profundity. In the overall process of art l collecting can be as much of an art as producing the objects we collect, and has equal potential for high art, or expressive esoterica. With this in mind, it becomes clear that i1le art of collecting is far more than just gathering together a group of objects, The ultimate aim of the collector is to approach a range of physical works of alt with a view to learning, as efficiently as possible, all that can be learned