by Charlene Spretnak. Palgrave Macmillan, October 2014. 342 p. ill. ISBN 9781137350039 (cl.), $100.00.

Reviewed May 2015
Karen Stafford, Catalog/Reference Librarian, Ryerson & Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago, kstafford2@artic.edu

spretnakCharlene Spretnak, professor emerita in the philosophy and religion department at the California Institute of Integral Studies, compellingly argues that an influential "spiritual dynamic" underlying a plethora of artistic movements and prominent modern artists' works has often been overlooked or ignored in art scholarship. Fully aware of and carefully navigating the hazy lines between "spirituality," and "religion," she offers an overview of over 200 artists grappling with their roles in the cosmos through art. Spretnak has scoured the writings of artists and conducted her own interviews to put forth evidence, in the artists' own words, of the spiritual influence on modern art.

In order to fit such a large topic into a single book, Spretnak narrows her analysis to include mainly artists in France, Germany, England, and the United States. She organizes the book into six roughly chronological chapters grouped into spiritual themes: nineteenth-century Christianity, esoteric spirituality (1880s-1918), reactions against esoteric spirituality (1919-1939), allusive spirituality (1945-present), spirituality of immanence (1945-present), and Abrahamic religions (1945-present). Because of the expansive scope of this project and lack of substantial statements from some artists about their work, Spretnak limits her discussion of many artists to a paragraph or less, jumping quickly from artist to artist, country to country. This pacing leaves plenty of room for future art scholars to investigate the points she raises more thoroughly, contextualizing the argument further beyond the artists' descriptions of their works.

The text is accompanied by twenty black-and-white illustrations, and although the book suggests that they can be supplemented through an Internet search engine, one cannot help but wish for more discussion and inclusion of full-color illustrations, especially because so many specific artworks are named in the text. Chapter headings, bolded artist names in the main text, and an index allow readers to quickly pinpoint any major artist or spiritual movement of interest. An appendix also contains a short bibliography of other secondary literature that examines spirituality in modern art, and primary sources are included in the endnotes.

While the role of spirituality in art has been discussed for certain specific artists and movements, Spretnak's work offers a rich and comprehensive narrative of the networks of artists and artistic movements influenced by spirituality that would be valuable for any institution with a focus on modern art and perhaps even as the basis of a course on the subject.

Karen Stafford, Catalog/Reference Librarian, Ryerson & Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago, kstafford2@artic.edu