Sunday, January 20, 2013

Theosophy and the Arts in the Modern World

A Call for Papers has been sent out for the Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy and the Arts in the Modern World Conference to be held at the University of Amsterdam, 25-27 September 2013.

Building on a very successful exploratory colloquium at Liverpool Hope University in December 2010, this conference will explore what the arts can tell us about the complex relationships between Theosophy, modernity and artistic culture c. 1875-1960. The purpose of this conference is to bring together an international group of scholars working on Theosophy and the arts across the globe in this period, and as a result, map the rich variety of artistic responses to the influence of Theosophy and the Theosophical movements in the modern world. The connections between Theosophy and modernist aesthetics have been well documented in relation to certain artists such as Kandinsky and Mondrian, as well as composers like Scriabin and Rudhyar. However, the purpose of this conference is to develop a more nuanced and complex picture of the multiple layering of art, modernity and mysticism in a range of artistic practices in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The wider critical significance of the relationships between painting, sculpture, applied and decorative arts, music, architecture on the one hand and Theosophy on the other, with the exception of a few well known case-studies, is still largely to be explored, possibly because, as the historian Alex Owen has suggested, ‘the very notion of mysticism and the occult seem to run counter to our conception of modern culture and the modern mind set’.

Individual papers might explore how artists, musicians and performers came into contact with Theosophy and other mystical doctrines or practices, and how Theosophical ideas, especially those of key figures in the Society in this period, such as Helena P. Blavatsky and Annie Besant, were given material, visual and audible form and shape.

Other topics of interest for the conference will include: the international artistic networks of the Theosophical movements (including R. Steiner’s Anthroposophy and post-Theosophical developments, such as G.I. Gurdjieff’s Work), the interrelations of mysticism, music and the visual arts; women artists/musicians and Theosophy; the artistic significance of A. Besant’s and C.W. Leadbeater’s book Thought Forms (1901).

The Enchanted Modernities project will sponsor the Conference in Amsterdam in 2013 and one at Columbia University in New York in 2015 as well as exhibitions and performances of Theosophically inspired music. A site for it has been set up at the University of York in the UK with more about its events and resources, which can be seen here. A bibliography of recent research on Theosophy and the Arts has already been made available as part of the site’s resources.

A patinated copper dish
by Dutch Theosophist Frans Zwollo sr., 1914

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