The Modern State of Being: Mystical Spirituality in Twentieth Century American Avant-Garde Painting
The singlemost misunderstood aspect of twentieth century art is the advent of abstraction. In the aftermath of the first half of the twentieth century, modern man felt that in order to regain his humanity, in order to find freedom again, he must break free from the rational, scientific determinism that defined twentieth century reality. Mysticism is the result of a reality in denial of natural laws, outside of rationality. This mystical reality manifested itself in the art of the twentieth century. In Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky asserts that pure abstraction obtains sublime transcendence. Spirituality in twentieth century art tends to attach itself to the modern artist’s aspiration to achieve transcendent expression through the act of creation. In this thesis, I trace the progression of Kandinsky’s tradition through the work of American avant-garde painters Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and Agnes Martin. These three artists believed abstraction was the most powerful means by which to convey spiritual concepts of renewal, wholeness, infinitude, perfection, sublimity and transcendence in their work. Through these artists, this thesis illustrates how the mystical spirituality of modern man manifests itself in the embrace of abstraction in American art of the twentieth century.