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The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art: Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present

“This clear-eyed and passionate book bravely contends with the omnipresent American assumption that the narrative of modern art can only be told in terms laid out by MoMA in the early 1930s.... I hope that students of modern art history may take heart and inspiration in this serious new book, the result of many years of research and interviews, especially with artists today.”
-- Maurice Tuchman, Senior Curator Emeritus, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“Charlene Spretnak’s book is an urgently needed reminder that a good deal of modern art is informed by a ‘spiritual dynamic.’ She convincingly demonstrates, with breathtaking comprehensiveness, that a good many modern artists, however stylistically different, viewed their work as the embodiment of a numinous experience and a means of evoking it in the spectator.”
-- Donald Kuspit, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History and Philosophy,
State University of New York

“A welcome and proficiently documented critique of the hermetic formalism by art critics, Charlene Spretnak has given us an exploration of the spiritual dimension of modern and contemporary art with insight and passion.”
-- Peter Selz, Professor Emeritus, Modern Art, University of California, Berkeley

“Spretnak's scholarly ambition challenges deep-seated assumptions about the genesis of modernism.... She offers a parallel narrative to the standard account of rationalistic faith in progress, with canonical artists embracing a dizzying variety of institutional faiths and other antimaterialistic beliefs.... Reading against the grain and including original interviews, Spretnak offers provocative reinterpretations of the work of artists like Sean Scully, Anselm Kiefer, Ed Ruscha, Antony Gormley and Ursula von Rydingsvard, especially in light of their childhood faiths.”
-- Eleanor Heartney, Art in America, February 2016

"While the role of spirituality in art has been discussed for certain specific artists and movements, Spretnak's work offers a rich and comprehensive narrative of the networks of artists and artistic movements influenced by spirituality that would be valuable for any institution with a focus on modern art and perhaps even as the basis of a course on the subject."
-- Art Libraries Society of North America Reviews, May 2015

"This book makes a tremendous case for a long overdue unearthing of the 'great underground river that flows through modern art'—a move that might just give us a formidable font of wisdom in some desperately arid terrain."
-- Taney Roniger, The Brooklyn Rail, October 2015

The history of modern art has generally been understood as a grand leap away from tradition, religion, and conventional norms, yielding decidedly secular art. Yet a majority of the prominent modern artists in every period had strong interests in the spiritual dimension of life, which they expressed in the new art forms they created. The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art draws on direct statements by scores of leading artists – cited from little known historical documentation as well as contemporary interviews – to demonstrate that spirituality, far from being inconsequential in the terrain of modern art, is generative. This comprehensive overview presents, for the first time, a chronological survey of the major art movements that weaves together spiritual profiles of numerous leading artists and situates their stories within the cultural context of each period. The result is a significantly expanded understanding of the cultural history of modern art.

Published by Palgrave Macmillan (New York) on 23 October 2014
Paperback edition by Palgrave Macmillan on 22 October 2015

An interview with the author about The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art was published in the October 2015 issue of the British arts journal Interalia Magazine (www.interaliamag.org).

Contents of the Book
Introduction: The Great Underground River That Flows Through Modern Art
1. The 19th Century: Expressing Christian Themes in a Newly Secular World
2. Mid-1880s through 1918: The Quest to Save Civilization from “Materialism” Through
a New Art Informed by Esoteric Spirituality
3. 1919-1939: The Reaction against Prewar Esoteric Spirituality
4. 1945 to the Present: Allusive Spirituality
5. 1945 to the Present: Spirituality of Immanence
6. 1945 to the Present: Rocked in the Bosom of Abraham
Afterword: When Form Follows Spirit
Appendix: Making the Case

For Scholars of Art History of the Modern Period: The research materials used in writing this book have been placed in the Special Collections of the Flora L. Hewlett Library at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA (adjacent to UC Berkeley). This research collection is entitled "The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art, 1800-2014 Collection." It consists of some 250 files on individual artists and 242 books.