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Synthesizing Transcendental Painting: Race, Religion, and Aesthetics in the Art of Emil Bisttram, Raymond Jonson, and Agnes Pelton

dc.contributor.advisorPromey, Sally M.en_US
dc.contributor.authorRees, Nathanen_US
dc.date.accessioned2011-02-19T07:06:23Z
dc.date.available2011-02-19T07:06:23Z
dc.date.issued2010en_US
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1903/11221
dc.description.abstractThree core artists of the Transcendental Painting Group, Emil Bisttram (1895-1976), Raymond Jonson (1891-1982), and Agnes Pelton (1881-1961), employed modernist painting styles in an attempt to create spiritually significant art. Although previous scholarship has focused on the artists' formal innovations, their work was imbricated in contemporary cultural politics, actively participating in discourses surrounding conceptions of race, religion, aesthetics, and the interrelation of each of these realms. Each drew from sources in metaphysical religious literature, especially Theosophy and related traditions. Their theories of ideal aesthetics for religious art, based on the supposition that artists could convey direct emotional experience through abstraction, reflected the Theosophical drive to overcome materialist philosophy by transcending the limits of physicality. Bisttram, Pelton, and Jonson also internalized Theosophy's promotion of syncretism as a guiding principle, and followed metaphysical religionists in advocating a combinative appropriation from diverse religious and artistic traditions. In particular, they relied on Theosophical conceptions of the importance of gleaning allegedly ancient wisdom as they addressed American Indian cultures of the Southwest. Their art created a hybrid iconography, combining symbolic elements from metaphysical religious sources with imagery derived from Southwest Indian cultures, asserting an integral relationship between the two, and advancing the perceived agreement between Native American and Theosophical religious systems as evidence of the truth of the latter. In addition to expressing metaphysical interpretations of Native American religions in their work, they promoted a transcultural aesthetic that posited American Indian art as an archaic and therefore "authentic" means of expressing of spiritual wisdom; they modeled their own abstract aesthetics in response to their encounters with Indian art. As they appropriated from Native American sources, they created images that celebrated the indigenous peoples of the Southwest as possessing unique and important religious knowledge. Their intent, however, was to advance Western culture forward by drawing from ancient sources to create a new, synthetic religion. The result was an art that referenced American Indian cultural practices and art traditions, but gave no voice to the original Native American artists, claiming to transcend the sphere of cultural significance and approach the level of "universal" meaning.en_US
dc.titleSynthesizing Transcendental Painting: Race, Religion, and Aesthetics in the Art of Emil Bisttram, Raymond Jonson, and Agnes Peltonen_US
dc.typeDissertationen_US
dc.contributor.publisherDigital Repository at the University of Marylanden_US
dc.contributor.publisherUniversity of Maryland (College Park, Md.)en_US
dc.contributor.departmentArt History and Archaeologyen_US
dc.subject.pqcontrolledArt Historyen_US
dc.subject.pqcontrolledReligionen_US
dc.subject.pqcontrolledAmerican Studiesen_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledAmerican Arten_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledBisttramen_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledJonsonen_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledPeltonen_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledTheosophyen_US


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