Review: 'The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic' by S. Elizabeth
Pub. Date: 13/10/2020
Publisher: Quarto Publishing Group - White Lion
A visual feast of eclectic artwork informed and inspired by spiritual beliefs, magical techniques, mythology and otherworldly experiences.
Mystical beliefs and practices have existed for millennia, but why do we still chase the esoteric? From the beginning of human creativity itself, image-makers have been drawn to these unknown spheres and have created curious artworks that transcend time and place – but what is it that attracts artists to these magical realms?
From theosophy and kabbalah, to the zodiac and alchemy; spiritualism and ceremonial magic, to the elements and sacred geometry – introduces major occult themes and showcases the artists who have been influenced and led by them. Discover the symbolic and mythical images of the Pre-Raphaelites; the automatic drawing of Hilma af Klint and Madge Gill; Leonora Carrington's surrealist interpretation of myth, alchemy and kabbalah; and much more.
Featuring prominent, marginalised and little-known artists, crosses mystical spheres in a bid to inspire and delight. Divided into thematic chapters (The Cosmos, Higher Beings, Practitioners), the book acts as an entertaining introduction to the art of mysticism – with essays examining each practice and over 175 artworks to discover.
The art of the occult has always existed in the margins but inspired the masses, and this book will spark curiosity in all fans of magic, mysticism and the mysterious.
I am a fan of magic, mysticism and the mysterious, so I have always been looking for books about all three. As a kid I did so by reading fairytales and folklore, avidly climbing trees and looking for fairy circles in the forest. As I got older I began digging in a different way. Sure, the Harry Potter books helped keep the flame alive, but I was quickly using the ideas from those books to look beyond. I was fascinated to find that basilisks had been around for ages and that some of the most renowned scientists and philosophers had also been alchemists. Nicholas Flamel who? For me, visual representations of the occult have always had a lot of power and visualization is a big part of most modern-day magical practices. S. Elizabeth states in the Introduction that 'Art-making, then, is magic-making' and once you've read The Art of the Occult you couldn't agree more.
The word to describe The Art of the Occult is lavish. It is a beautiful book, filled with stunning images and objects spanning centuries. S. Elizabeth curates an excellent collection under the headings of thematic chapters, focusing on 'The Cosmos', 'Practitioners' and everything in between. Each chapter is introduced by S. Elizabeth in clear and knowledgeable writing. This way, once you're looking at the images, you have a background knowledge to them and are able to appreciate them more. Many of the older artists will be familiar to most readers, but S. Elizabeth also includes many contemporary artists that were new to me. It was a joy to discover their work and I often found myself pondering over a painting, looking at the details and imagining the person who made it. I spent some glorious evenings this way and will definitely revisit The Art of the Occult in the future.
As mentioned above, S. Elizabeth wrote an introduction for each chapter. Initially I found myself first looking at the images and then reading it, but quickly I began really reading and considering the introductions. They are very well written and show a lot of knowledge. They truly enhanced the experience of viewing the art, so definitely don't skip them, even you find yourself hungry to see the art. The Art of the Occult is not a reference work or a glossary. It is a collection that is meant to inspire interest. The art works collected are exemplars of their topic, showing the wide range of art that has been inspired by the occult. If anything, S. Elizabeth's book will inspire a desire to dig deeper yourself, find works that speak to your own interests or ideas of the occult. The Art of the Occult is a great book to read, but also a great book to occasionally peak at to re-view a certain picture or re-read a sentence. I'm definitely on the lookout for a physical copy to display with pride.
I give this book...
The Art of the Occult does exactly what it says it will do. S. Elizabeth guides the reader through various themes and time periods with ease, informing and entertaining along the way. I would recommend this to any lover of art or the Occult.