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Refiguring the Spiritual

Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy

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  • Book Info
    Refiguring the Spiritual
    Book Description:

    Mark C. Taylor provocatively claims that contemporary art has lost its way. With the art market now mirroring the art of finance, many artists create works solely for the purpose of luring investors and inspiring trade among hedge funds and private equity firms. When art is commodified, corporatized, and financialized, it loses its critical edge and is transformed into a financial instrument calculated to maximize profitable returns.

    Joseph Beuys, Matthew Barney, James Turrell, and Andy Goldsworthy are artists who differ in style, yet they all defy the trends that have diminished art's potential in recent decades. They understand that art is a transformative practice drawing inspiration directly and indirectly from ancient and modern, Eastern and Western forms of spirituality. For Beuys, anthroposophy, alchemy, and shamanism drive his multimedia presentations; for Barney and Goldsworthy, Celtic mythology informs their art; and for Turrell, Quakerism and Hopi myth and ritual shape his vision.

    Eluding traditional genres and classifications, these artists combine spiritually inspired styles and techniques with material reality, creating works that resist merging space into cyberspace in a way that overwhelms local contexts with global networks. Their art reminds us of life's irreducible materiality and humanity's inescapability of place. For them, art is more than just an object or process -- it is a vehicle transforming human awareness through actions echoing religious ritual. By lingering over the extraordinary work of Beuys, Barney, Turrell, and Goldsworthy, Taylor not only creates a novel and personal encounter with their art but also opens a new understanding of overlooked spiritual dimensions in our era.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52777-4
    Subjects: Religion, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-15)

    Art has lost its way. Changes that have been emerging for at least half a century have reached the tipping point, and we now find ourselves in the midst of a seismic sociocultural shift whose proportions are impossible to determine. Of the many factors that have contributed to these developments, none is more important than the transformation of the economy that was made both possible and necessary by new media, information, and networking technologies. Ever prescient, Andy Warhol declared in 1975, “Business art is the step that comes after Art.”¹ Art and money, of course, have always been inseparable. During...

    (pp. 16-43)

    It’s all about the fat: the way it looks, smells, feels—the way it oozes and seeps, jiggles and ripples, molds and melts—the way it is stored and burnt. During an era in which art was becoming ever more abstract and, thus, increasingly thin, Beuys made art fat. Real fat. Fat is one of the most unlikely materials with which to make art. Traditionally associated with excess and waste, fat is supposed to be slimmed, trimmed, and eliminated; it is unseemly, inelegant, and ugly. There is something gross, even grotesque about fat. Far from aesthetically appealing, fat is undeniably...

    (pp. 44-101)

    Roland Barthes begins Writing Degree Zero on a revolutionary note: “Hébert, the revolutionary, never began a number of his news-sheet Le père Duchêne without introducing a sprinkling of obscenities. These improprieties had no real meaning, but they had significance. In what way? In that they expressed a whole revolutionary situation. Now here is an example of a mode of writing whose function is no longer only communication or expression, but the imposition of something beyond language.” Literature emerges when language loses its transparency. Far from a window exposing the world, the word is, in Maurice Blanchot’s phrase made famous by...

    (pp. 102-145)

    To see seeing would be to be present at the creation of the world. The world, as ancient myths teach, did not begin once-and-for all at a moment in the distant past but is created every time dawning light dissipates darkness and order appears in the midst of chaos or, in a more contemporary idiom, wherever pattern emerges from noise. As I write these words, dawn is slowly breaking on the Berkshire Mountains outside my window. For more than two decades I have begun each day in silence, watching first light gradually dispel lingering darkness. The most remarkable moment in...

    (pp. 146-179)

    Recovering from major surgery takes time—time that cannot be measured by clocks or calendars. As weeks turned into months and months became a year, my physical wounds healed but psychological scars lingered. Disease—especially when it is chronic—transforms awareness in subtle ways that are difficult to measure. The changes are neither conscious nor unconscious; rather, changes linger like shadows at the edge of vision that illuminate much that had been obscure. The pace and rhythm of life are altered in ways that are not easy to understand or describe. Outwardly everything seems to be the same, but inwardly...

    (pp. 180-192)

    If, as Hegel insists, the Owl of Minerva only takes flight at twilight, understanding is always an afterthought. Looking back, we often are able to discern patterns that were inconspicuous when we were in the middle of things. We cannot be sure whether the order of things is uncovered or imposed. Moreover, meaning is never stable; as we spin and respin our tales, patterns shift and lines that once seemed fixed must be rewritten.

    If I had to guess, I would wager that Refiguring the Spiritual began on October 19, 1987. On that day, known as Black Monday, financial markets...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 193-206)
    (pp. 207-212)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 213-228)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-230)
  15. [PLATES]
    (pp. None)