Re: Theosophical Artists
Sep 15, 2001 07:36 PM
by Mark Kusek
The impact of Theosophy upon the development of Modern Art is well documented from
several perspectives, including both pro-theosophy adherents as well as academic
art historians. There are interesting books on the subject that will serve to
illustrate the cultural milieu in which the theosophical current infused the
intellectual atmosphere at the turn of the century.
Two landmark volumes that I cannot recommend enough are:
"The Spiritual In Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985." Los Angeles County Museum of
Art. 1986 Abbeville Press. ISBN 0-7892-0056-2.
"An Art of Our Own: The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art." by Roger Lipsey. 1989
Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-362-7.
You'll find a treasury of information in both of these that will do more for your
questions, understanding and appreciation than any email I could ever write.
Theosophy in general (ie., the Secret Doctrine, et al) and related movements like
Anthroposophy were far reaching and seminal influences for the milieu of the time.
Kandinsky in his book "Concerning the Spiritual in Art," mentions Blavatsky by
name, praising her contributions to theosophical theory.
The fact of the matter however, and Theosophy's credit for developments in modern
abstract art, hinge largely upon two publications that might cause consternation
for some TS sects (ie, ULT). As research bears out, the Theosophical publications
most responsible for influencing non-representational European Modernism were
Leadbeater's "Man Visible and Invisible" and Besant and Leadbeater's "Thought
Forms", the German versions of which Kandinsky had in his library.
Further research for the interested might include:
"Klee, Kandinsky, and the Thought of Their Time. A Critical Perspective." By Mark
Roskill. 1992 University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-01857-5
"The Sounding Cosmos: A Study of the Spiritualism of Kandinsky and the Genesis of
Abstract Painting." By Sixten Ringbom. 1970 Acta Academie Aboensis.
"The Mystical Now : Art and the Sacred" by Wendy Beckett.
For a Theosophical Perspective try:
"The Spiritual Image in Modern Art" by Kathleen J. Regier (Compiler).
Or the cassette tape recording of a TS radio program called "Theosophy and Modern
Art." (I'll have to dig mine up for the specifics).
For an Anthroposophical Perspective try:
"Art As Spiritual Activity: Rudolf Steiner's Contribution to the Visual Arts
(Vista Series, Vol 3)" by Rudolf Steiner, Michael Howard (Editor)
"Art as Seen in the Light of Mystery Wisdom" by Rudolf Steiner.
Both Kandinsky and his companion, Gabrielle Munter had Steiner's books in their
As far as I am aware, Mondrian was a card carrying member of the Adyar
Theosophical Society, as Katinka has said. Kandinsky attended several Theosophical
and Anthroposophical meetings, but never became an official member. The Bauhaus
design school, where Kandinsky taught (and this would include artists like Paul
Klee and Johannes Itten) would benefit greatly from the influence of his
Theosophical and Anthroposophical ideas. Malevich, as well as the other artists of
the Russian Avant Garde, was more indirectly influenced by theosophical ideas from
Kandinsky's writings in "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" and "Point to Line to
Plane" as well as the general atmosphere of the time. I have never heard of
Malevich being an official member of the Theosophical Society.
The important thing, I think, to remember in all of this is that the "theosophical
current" was very popular and literally "in the air" in those days, along with
strong symbolist ideas and new discoveries about the deep nature of the psyche.
There was an incredible mixture of fresh thought boiling in Europe at the time.
Theosophy in it's revelation of ways to "see," "form" and "color" interior
emotional states, had a profound effect on artists like Marc Chagall and the
Surrealists. Artists like Robert Delaunay, Jean (Hans) and Sophie-Tauber Arp were
also caught up in these new currents, as was another early abstractionist,
At the time of the Nazi regime, many modernists were forced to emigrate or face
Hitler's persecution. The Third Reich openly denounced the new abstraction as
"Degenerate Art" and moved to severely clamp down on it's practitioners. It amazes
me to this day that Hitler was so threatened by these artists playing with simple
shapes and colors. To continue to do so under threat of death gives to these
adventurous painters the stature of heroes. But such were the times. Some moved to
America (like Mondrian and Bauhaus leader Walter Gropius) in order to continue
their work. This helped to spread the influence abroad.
There were in the years that followed, many Theosophical artists that were the
direct heirs or "second generation" to these abstract pioneers and had admitted
interests in Theosophy. Artists like Charmion Von Weigand, Agnes Pelton, Raymond
Johnson, Emil Bisttram, Lauren Harris and members of the "Transcendental Painting
School" had direct ties to Theosophy via European Abstraction. Others, like the
painters of the New York Abstract Expressionist School including Adolph Gottlieb,
Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard
Pousette-Dart, etc., as well, as Neo-Dadaists like Jasper Johns were also heirs.
I am unfamiliar with Marcel Broodthaers and would be interested in seeing examples
of his work if anyone could point me to some. Joesph Beuys, as far as I know was
not an official TS member.
In our time, one living artist that has shown strong interest in Theosophy is
Francisco Clemente. He spent extended time at Adyar and painted many pictures from
his experience there.
If one is interested in reading some of what card carrying members of the Society
have said regarding art, there are some interesting works by both Claude Bragdon
and C. Jinarajadasa that might be worth a visit.
- The Beautiful Necessity : Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture
- Projective Ornament
- Art and the Emotions
Both before and after HPB's time, the revelations of the true theosophic current
have influenced receptive minds and hearts. Wherever these have been inspired
artisans and artists, there is the record found, both East and West, of the impact
of this fiery gnosis upon mankind's art and culture.
> Louis wrote:
> > >Which of the following was not a follower of theosophy?
> > >
> > >a) Joseph Beuys
> > >b) Kazimir Malevich
> > >c) Marcel Broodthaers
> > >d) Wassily Kandinsky
> > >e) Piet Mondrian
> > >Do either of the following consider themselves followers of
> > theosophy?
> > >Joseph Beuys
> > >Marcel Broodthaers
> Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian are two well known artists that treated
> theosophical themes in their work. I do not know anything about the other
> three. Sorry.
> Katinka wrote:
> I know only about the last two. Piet Mondrian (one of our
> famous dutch-men) read the Secret Doctrine and was a member
> of the TS-Adyar his whole life. (though not active). I'll
> ask the dutch list for details.
> Kandinsky was certainly spiritually inspired and was part
> of the movement that used theosophy/spirituality as an
> artistic inspiration. But whether he was a theosophist, or
> read theosophical books - I don't remember.
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