Since the dawn of art, artists have attempted to reach and to show what the eyes don’t see, but the inner voice or the soul comprehend. Attempting to present the spiritual and the mystical and understanding that creativity and the produced images are bridges between the lower and the higher world, is the main concern of visionary art. As such, one can define the animal and human hybrid drawings and paintings found on cave walls, the ancient shamanic art, or the ritual masks of the African culture as some of the earliest examples of visionary art. These images, and many that followed this tradition of art making, aimed to transcend the physical sphere and to produce a wider vision of awareness which included the spiritual and the mystical.
One of the main aspects of visionary art is the idea that the produced images are in fact messages, guidelines, or prophesies given to the creatives by a divine force or by their altered state of being. Differing from the attempts of the Surrealist painters to elevate the dream-state into a higher reality, visionary authors use all means possible to access different states of consciousness and expose the resulting vision. The aim of visionary art is to show what lies beyond the boundary of the sight, and using the images of dreams, or trances, present the visionary states that transcend our regular modes of perception. For some authors, this meant the loss of oneself during the creative process, and the connection to the universal laws, to that divine force of inspiration, or, using the term of the famous psychoanalysis Carl Jung, the collective symbolic unconsciousness. For various cultures, this realm of the unknown has various names – for William Blake it is called the divine imagination, for the Aboriginal culture it is called the dreamtime, and for the Tibetans, it is understood as the dimension of inner richness. The connection to this realm and the ability to expose its images through paintings, or drawings explain the idea of visionary art. Such artworks are considered as points of contact between the spiritual and the material realms.
Beginning at the prehistoric time, the cave paintings can be seen as visions and representations of dreams. They stood as magical symbols which called forth the successful hunt and the capture of a wild animal. Moving through centuries, visionary art represents various religious texts and paintings. The presentation of the unimaginable body of the angels or saints, not only connected our sphere to the spiritual ideas but gave the public images to worship. Famous Italian sculptors and painters elevated the ideas of Christian mysticism with the use of Gothic realism. One of the most famous paintings, understood to help to define the eclectic arena of vision art, is the celebrated image The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Touched by, as critics define, the visionary madness, the artist created one of the strangest paintings of the world, an encyclopedia of a metamorphic plant-, animal-, and human symbolism. Following through time, ideas of the spiritual, and the connection to the divine force which opened its images and ideas forth, influenced the famous William Blake, whose watercolor paintings are considered as the most beautiful examples of visionary art.
Moving to the modern art, various early abstract paintings and dream-like images of the Surrealist movement exposed the life without rules, where various bizarre juxtapositions are allowed. These images only re-enforced the idea of the Divine mystery and its vastness. During the 1960’s, known as the psychedelic sixties, the hippie movement, influenced through its lifestyle an original kind of poster designs, and psychedelic paintings. In the 70’s, the loosely associated group of California visionary painters and their images were published by the Pomegranate Art Books which were known to follow the tradition of shamanistic art. Presently, various images, which relate back the history of such ideas and the need to comprehend the universe decorate the productivity of contemporary visionary creatives. Festivals such as Burning Man and Boom, along with Interdimensional Art Movement are seen as a fresh wave of visionary art and events.
The most celebrated authors of history, such as the above-mentioned William Blake or Hieronymus Bosch are just a few of the names which are closely linked to this style of creativity. Joining them is the father of Symbolism art Gustave Moreau, whose illustrations of the biblical and mythological figures still entice the public’s imagination. In the search of the original aesthetic language, the detailed and beautiful paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones are also considered as examples of visionary art. Embracing this form of creativity are early abstract images of Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, or Jean Arp who researched the spirituality in art and the symbolic and emotional qualities of line, geometric shapes, and color. Kazimir Malevich and his pure abstraction called forth for the original idea of art, and in this quest, he was also joined by Piet Mondrian whose writings on art are considered as some of the most philosophical writings. The visions of Surrealist painters, such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, and Frida Kahlo, mixed not only the sphere of dreams but of memories and childhood experiences. Like an elaborate collage, these influences shifted towards their mesmerizing canvases.
As a force which helped to establish the visionary art culture was the Post-WWII Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. Founded in 1946, the leading professor Albert Paris Gütersloh emphasized the techniques of old masters which gave the fantastic realist painters a ground in realism. Some of the most famous creatives from this school were Ernst Fuchs and Arik Braue, just to name a few.
What unites these authors is their talent and their gift to present the vast spectrum of the visionary dimensions of the mind, which as we have discussed follow us from the dawn of time.
Editors’ Tip: The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985
By demonstrating the huge impact of mysticism and the occult on 20th-century authors from Gauguin to Pollack, Mondrian to O'Keefe, this work effectively refutes the popular fallacy that modernism is concerned solely with line, form, and color. Further, as it examines modernism's complex philosophical origins, it demonstrates that without such impact, abstract art as we know it would not have emerged at all. Seventeen essays, all by distinguished scholars, treat topics as diverse as synesthesia, theosophy, alchemy, hermeticism, Yoga, and Zen, and several overlooked or forgotten creatives are given serious consideration. This work, the catalog for an exhibit mounted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, belongs in every serious art library.
All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image: Dennis Konstantin – Dieschwaerze, 2010 – Image via Denniskonstantin.com