Sunday, July 10, 2005

Spirituality and Abstraction

I finished Gablik's Conversations Before the End of Time. Now I'm reading An Art of Our Own : the Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art by Roger Lipsey. It's a kind of alternative history of abstract art, tracing the influence of spirituality in the work of Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich and beyond.

Lipsey discusses two types of seeing as found in a Sufi text: seeing with eyes of flesh and eyes of fire.
Eyes of flesh perceive the world and mankind as densely material; in such eyes life is a losing struggle for permanence, although sometimes full of beauty. Eyes of flesh acutely perceive details of time, place, person, action, and idea, but in relation to one another rather than to anything beyond them.

Eyes of fire perceive each thing as the outer sign of an inner fact, or the local sign of a distant power. For such eyes nothing is lonely matter, all things are caught up in a mysterious, ultimately divine whole that challenges understanding over a lifetime. Eyes of flesh focus on the thing itself, eyes of fire on facts but still more intently on their participation in a larger meaning by which they are raised. (p.17)
So far Lipsey's book is not too dense, enjoyable but still fairly scholarly. I don't know much about early abstract art so it should be interesting, especially since a few of the artists to be discussed are in the Visual Music show.


At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Josse said...

Hi Amy,

thanks for recommending Roger's book. I'm looking forward to reading it. You are fast becoming a great resource for interesting ideas on art and spirituality. I'm having a think about your question: Can art become part of a process of transformative change in society which connects us once more to our divine nature? It's such a rich question. Do you have any personal experience with artists who are making a difference in that way?

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Amy said...

Hi Josse.

Thanks! I'm always reading four books at once, it takes me forever to finish them all.

Good question. If you haven't read Suzi Gablik's Reenchantment of Art I totally recommend it, she tries to approach that issue.

I personally don't know many artists working that way. A few of my colleagues at my studio try, I think, on a smaller scale, connecting to divine nature through their art - not alot of interaction necessarily with society. See Judybeth Greene's work at

There are quite a few artists working in a spiritual vein who are "known" - like Bill Viola, for example. But again, his work doesn't necessarily get into transformative change for society.

Please share any artists you know who are working in this way!

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Amy said...

Also to a lesser extent my own work, I guess, though it hasn't really been my main focus. I have a horrible website with horrible photos but you can get an idea :

At 7:47 PM, Anonymous Mery Lynn said...

I've wondered why art historians tend to skirt around Mondrian's and Malevich's religious beliefs. I think part of it is that art history and art are now in academic environments. To talk about artists connected to odd religious traditions seems to marginalize the study. Maybe the one good thing which will arise from the rise of the relgious right is being able to talk about religion in the open.


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