I had many marvelous encounters with famed tarot historian and collector K. Frank Jensen. Among the marvelous moments, there were also some filled with tension.
The tension was due to the differences in our approaches to the cards. He would put any deck in my hand, and then would watch my reaction. He would make a grimace.
The trouble was with the sequencing in my response. Instead of going descriptive first, I’d go contextual and analytical, leaving the descriptive to the end, to the point when I’d forget about it all together. In a collector’s eye, this is not a sign of seriousness.
I’d look at the cards as if for a divination session.
He would go: ‘You can’t divine with that. It’s not for divination. It’s for aesthetic appreciation. It may be called ‘Tarot’, but it has nothing to do with tarot.’
He was right about the art. He was not right about the divination aspect.
I would press him for a question: ‘Come on Frank. Give me the question.’
‘I don’t have one,’ he’d say.
‘Sure you do,’ I’d say. ‘You’re not dead yet and you’re not Zen either. Only the dead and Zen masters have no questions’.
He’d pose a weird question just to prove that I couldn’t do it. Divine, that is.
But divine I did, sometimes with emotional results. If a fortuneteller is any good, then she can spot the subtlest moisture in the eyes. Frank was good at hiding that. But not good enough.
Once Frank gave me a gift that he made himself, the card of the Empress, part of one of his mail art projects. I would put it next to an envelop and divine with it.
I’d say to him: ‘See, your Empress is ready for the golden opportunity.’
‘That’s not divination,’ he would say.
‘Yes, it is,’ I’d say, and then continue:
‘Not only did you call it ‘Empress’, but you also wrote a poem on the card that frames and situates it in Tarot symbolism. So I can divine with it exactly as I please, as I have access to this context.’
This arguing went on like this for a while, until we would be ready to smash a glass of red wine on each other’s heads.
Frank was my best friend. He would say, ‘look,’ and I’d say, ‘think’.
There are many ways to describe what Art Tarot is, and there’s plenty of fascinating descriptions out there from the mouths of many an esteemed collector.
What there isn’t a lot of out there – in fact more like nothing – is precisely the part that has to do with what Art Tarot brings to the diviner’s table in the form of sharpening her interpretative skills.
For this reason I designed a one-day workshop, Art Tarot, in which I’ll address how we can appreciate the history, aesthetics, and ideology in an art tarot deck alongside with divination strategies and tactics.
But can you also divine with it?
… when it’s your own ad hoc concoction done in the spur of a moment?
Yes I can.
When Fortuna’s Calligraphy is on the table, the Wheel turns in the Magician’s favor.
The screen opens unto the blue sky, ink-dotting the Is in ‘I divine’.
Art Tarot closes for registration this Friday, taking place the day after on Saturday.
Hop onboard for a tour de force.
For a short take on why I’m interested in Art Tarot, you’re welcome to view my lastest video.