After Hilma af Klint: the influence of Theosophy on contemporary art
- Published: Saturday, 27 May 2023 13:07
Marco Pasi – the Netherlands
Thought-Forms - At a Shipwreck. Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater
For almost a century and a half after the inception of the Theosophical Society, the central tenets of Theosophy continue to resurface in art created today
Starting from thee 1960s, and especially since the publication of the ground breaking book by Sixten Ringbom, The Sounding Cosmos (1970), there has been a considerable amount of research on the relationship between Theosophy, or more generally alternative spirituality, and modern art. Important books and essays have been published, major retrospectives have been held, and large research projects such as ‘Enchanted Modernities’ have been funded. Although there may still be differences of opinion regarding the extent of Theosophy’s influence on the origins of abstract art, and on the development of the early twentieth century avantgarde, it would be naïve for an art historian today to deny that such an influence existed at all. Hilma af Klint has played a paradigmatic role in this story. Whereas it had been possible for some critics and art historians to minimize the extent of the influence of Theosophy on other early representatives of abstract or nonmimetic art, such as Kandinsky and Mondrian, things were different with af Klint. Given that her work was ‘discovered’ more recently, it has always been clear that esoteric ideas were crucial in her artistic output. Evidently, without considering this, it would be impossible to fully understand what she was doing or why she was doing it. The context of her ‘discovery’ was quite indicative of this, since it happened on the occasion of the groundbreaking 1986 exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The growing appreciation of af Klint as a key figure for early twentieth century art has perhaps helped indirectly to better understand the importance of Theosophy and alternative spirituality for the artists who were her contemporaries and who had always received most attention from critics and historians.
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