Animism and Shamanism in Twentieth-Century Art
Kandinsky, Ernst, Pollock, Beuys
Wassily Kandinsky, Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock, and Joseph Beuys were the leading artists of their generations to recognize the rich possibilities that animism and shamanism offered. While each of these artists' connection with shamanism has been written about separately, Evan Firestone brings the four together in order to compare their individual approaches to anthropological materials and to define similarities and differences between them. The author's close readings of their works and examination of the relevant texts available to them reveal fresh insights and new perspectives.The importance of indigenous beliefs in animism for Kandinsky's philosophy of art and practice, especially the animism of inanimate objects, is analyzed for the first time in conjunction with his well-known enthusiasms for Symbolism and Theosophy. Ernst's collage novel, La femme 100 tetes (1929), previously found to have significant alchemical content, also is shown to extensively utilize shamanism, thereby merging different branches of the occult that prove to have remarkable similarities. The in-depth examination of Pollock's works, both known and overlooked for shamanic content, identifies textual sources that heretofore have escaped notice. Firestone also demonstrates how shamanism was employed by this artist to express his desire for healing and transformation. The author further argues that the German edition of Mircea Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1957) helped to revitalize Beuys's life and art, and that his ecological campaigns reflected a new consciousness later termed ecoanimism.
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgements
Introduction: Explorers, Writers, and Artists Discover Shamanism
1. Kandinsky and Animism: "Everything ‘Dead’ Trembled"
2. Max Ernst’s La femme 100 têtes: A Shamanic-Alchemical Romance
3. Vision Quest: Jackson Pollock and the Native-American Spirit World
4. Joseph Beuys as Shaman: The Medium is the Message
Conclusion: The Occult, Primitivism, Modernism and Anti-Modernism
Addendum: Beuys Redux
Evan R. Firestone is Professor Emeritus of Art History, University of Georgia, USA.
"In Animism and Shamanism in Twentieth-Century Art Evan Firestone rescues the oftentimes repressed or even vilified knowledge systems of shamanism and the occult as intellectual cornerstones of twentieth-century modernism. Bringing together previously disparate scholarship on a subject that bridges expressionism, surrealism, and postwar art, his clear interpretive lens presents a compendium of central concepts within animism, shamanism, and alchemy. The artists' intellectual synthesis of these subjects comes alive in the book's close readings of key modernist artworks and performances. Firestone's book expands the category of modernist primitivism beyond its accepted formalist concerns to include more marginalized ethnographic and arcane sources. This study is also a timely contribution to current debates on art's potentially healing role for self, society, and environment." - Claudia Mesch, editor of Joseph Beuys: The Reader
"A fine comprehensive study of how and why the imagery of indigenous shamanism caught up with several prominent Western artists, who used it to explore their troubled relations with modernity. Professor Firestone invites his readers on a grand tour through the minds and art of Kandinsky, Ernst, Pollock, and Beuys to understand what spiritual and aesthetic motives drove them to what Mircea Eliade famously called the 'archaic techniques of ecstasy.' Highly recommended." - Andrei Znamenski, the author of The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination