The Spiritual in Abstract Art

There was a strong sense of a spirituality in many of the early abstract paintings. I was really impressed when I’ve found out how many world famous artists, who made history of the abstract art, were actually keep on spiritual studies and explored ways by which people could be effected. This carried on into the abstract expressionism movement.

I have been extremely interested in this connection. In my opinion, by reading critical reviews on abstract art and looking at the reasons for a specific ideologies in paintings could illustrate me the richer picture and give me much better understanding.

“When religion, science and morality are shaken (the last by the strong hand of Nietzche) and when outer supports threaten to fall, man withdraws his gaze from externals and turns it inwards. Literature, music and art are the most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt. They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show the importance of what was at first only a little point of light noticed by the few. Perhaps they even grow dark in their turn, but they turn away from the soulless life of the present toward those substances and ideas that give free scope to the non-material strivings of the soul. (Concerning the Spiritual in Art, p. 33)”

The most impressive artists of the time for me are Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Newman was an American painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer who worked at the same time as Rothko. Like Rothko, he lived in New York and painted large, color-saturated canvases.

Newman and Rothko had a strong sense of the spiritual purpose of their work. This spirituality was not synonymous with the traditional beliefs of the church. It is clear that theosophy and mysticism had a very strong influence of these artists.

  Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman 1905-1970

Canto II 1963-4 Barnett Newman 1905-1970 Presented by Mrs Annalee Newman, the artist’s widow 1972

  Mark Rothko

Green On Blue, 1956

“Theosophy is a collection of mystical and occultist philosophies concerning, or seeking direct knowledge of the presumed mysteries of life and nature, particularly of the nature of divinity and the origin and purpose of the universe.”

“Mysticism is popularly known as becoming one with God or the Absolute, but may refer to any kind of ecstasy or altered state of consciousness which is given a religious or spiritual meaning.”

Swedish artist Hilma af Klint was making abstract paintings in 1906. “Her abstract works were not shown until twenty years after her death, as stipulated in her will. She did not believe her contemporaries were ready to appreciate their full meaning… Klint considered herself a medium, holding séances and claiming that her paintings came from communications with a higher form of consciousness.”



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