Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Artwork by Alex Grey

As a university student at the faculty of comparative religion (or the science of religion, as it is called in Finland), I was studying the New Age movement as a phenomenon. I remember being warned by my mentor that the way spiritual people talk about energy is not scientific, and so one could postulate that they simply don't know what they are talking about. Of course, I believe in a kind of energy that isn't measurable with the tools we have today, and it's not just about energy that comes about through a metabolic or other physical process of transformation. To be honest, I don't really care what physicists think, because energy in the esoteric sense is perfectly real to me. I can sense it in many different ways. Some artists, however, feel that they can express various levels of energies in their art. This makes me a bit curious.

A year ago I wrote a blog post about spiritual art and how so much of it is really bad art. I was checking out some visionary art the other day and was wondering why on earth I find so much of it quite annoying. Some of it follows the school of "energism" which attempts to visualise the energies we can't see. Many would probably agree that Vincent van Gogh did just that in his paintings - and look how popular he is! In his art, the energy is however very much part of the scenery, not a byproduct but actually it. It's not quite what I see in contemporary art that depicts energies, where the energy is often there on top of the physical being or object (check out these paintings for instance).

Vincent van Gogh: "Starry Night" 1889

Alex Grey is a contemporary artist much revered by my favourite integral thinker Ken Wilber who speaks of gross, subtle and causal levels of existence. I watched a lecture Alex Grey had given and it helped me see what he's trying to do. I do find it all a bit dogmatic and not terribly original though. I would love to visit "Cosm", an area in the USA created by him and his friends. "The mission of CoSM is to build an enduring sanctuary of visionary art to inspire and evolve the creative spirit" - it certainly looks like a very intriguing place. Somehow it's almost as if this kind of art lends itself better in and on buildings than as conventional paintings, and it's probably easier to overlook a certain kitschiness when you're overwhelmed by awe in front of the scale and a sense of sheer majesty. It reminds me of Art Deco, which was quite a commercial style but in some cases quite wonderfully glamorous, majestic and whimsical. (I would say Portmeirion was at least in parts deliberately created to be a bit kitsch, which is possibly a different matter).

The term "energism" seems to have been invented by artist Julia Watkins. She (I think it's her anyway) says

"...Energism or Energy Art depicts the flow of spiritual energy that forms the fabric of our universe. Through colorful swirls it portrays beautiful scenes where beings exist in perfect harmony with the flow. It demonstrates how all life is interconnected.

But the art goes much further than simply creating a representation. It exerts a hypnotic effect on the viewer, allowing him to actually experience the energy on an emotional and instinctual level.

For many it is a powerful transformational experience, allowing them to connect to a part of themselves and a world they never knew existed.

For this reason, it is often called "meditative" or sacred art."

Actually, I think it's all quite wonderful. I think that if someone really is able to pick up such vibrations and somehow visualise them onto canvas or paper, then that's a good thing. There is a place for that in the world, most definitely. The problem is, that there seem to be so many people out there who just doodle and then say it's depicting energies. It's because it looks cool, I suppose. Others copy each other. The other problem is the lack of originality in terms of subject matter and ideas. There's the tree... there's the human in lotus position... there's the Buddha head... there's the hand reaching down from the sky to bless the human... there's the all seeing Eye... phew, need I go on? It's all so predictable! And this is why this kind of art very seldom is truly good art. It's often a sickly sweet or over-idealised portrayal of humankind and what is seen as the human potential. There are also frequent references to mythology and previous cultures - and I'm not entirely sure why?

I think most visionary art (that I've seen) is incredibly intricate in terms of technique, but a lot of it strikes me as mannerist and escapist. That in turn seems a bit decadent. I would like to think that our reality is just as much spiritual as "the other" reality. After all, enlightenement is said to be the realisation that this is it! I also look for more personality... after all, our indivduality should be celebrated, not downplayed! Energism isn't my thing, because I'm here to investigate the kind of world most people see and experience. That seems relevant to me - I just wrote about the importance of embracing imperfection in a world where everything strives towards glossiness and sanitation in my previous blog post. Of course there's no right or wrong... but sickly sweet, cute or extreme perfection is all very boring to me. Most of all, I'm put off by a lack of personality and originality. I look forward to the emergence of some more convincing spiritual art of the future!

Read my article on symbolism here.

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