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Occulture: Magnetic Modernism and Scientific Spiritualism in Modern Art

Cultural Studies


GENG-7820-002 Topics in Visual Cultures: Occulture: Magnetic Modernism and Scientific Spiritualism in Modern Art 
Professor S. Keshavjee
Winter 2018

This course studies the ways in which modern artists engaged with “the occult” or esoteric ideas  in the 20th century. Interest in hermetic philosophies and ancient knowledge  developed during the Enlightenment as a reaction to the rise of scientific positivism and increasing disenchantment with formal religions. Marginal religious philosophes, “ancient wisdom” and “scientific religions” filled a gap for many artists, especially as they moved towards abstract art. In the course we study the most important of the occult religious philosophies that developed in the 19th century, including Theosophy, Transformism, Spiritualism, and the cult of Isis. Artists were attracted to the occult for a range of reasons,   from adding visual esoteric symbolism to their paintings to creating talismans and “mystical experiences.” Occult-oriented art was sometimes produced in direct communication with spirits. Winnipeg has one of the best preserved archives of Spiritualism in the world and thus a number of classes will be held in the archive at the University of Manitoba, where we will consult primary sources. These include photographs and supporting texts created by Dr. T. G. Hamilton in the 1920s that outline his  life long “scientific” study of mediums in trances excreting teleplasmic materialization.