HOMEPAGE

From: Arts Calender, Vol 12 No 1.

Book Review

Transpersonal Art: The Paintings of Monika von Moltke, by Professor Leon Holdstock, School of Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand.

Transpersonal Art is a book with a difference. It takes art out of the realm of the purely aesthetic and explores it within the perspective of psychology and science. The first part focuses on the implications for art of advances in the scientific field. Knowledge that matter does not exist at subatomic level has had a pronounced effect on artists since the beginning of the century. They "turned their backs on the physical appearance of things and began their own explorations into the essence of nature and matter." The brief reassessment of quantum physics and relativity theory in the book is a timely reminder of happenings in science during the first part of the century which had a distinct impact on art.

Holdstock intimates that all great artists are or have been in touch with truths similar to that described in the new sciences a phenomenon which can possibly be explained by the principles of holography. Some people are privileged or destined to be in tune with energies emitted from the enfolded universe, ar the noted physicist, David Bohm, described the reality revealed by holography. The existence of such a reality is a fact, as holography reveals. By quoting from the poetry of William Blake and others, Holdstock shows that the poets of yesteryear have already sensed it. It is as much a challenge for the artist as it is for the scientist to unfold the enfolded pattern of the universe.

Holography, furthermore, demonstrates the existence of a unitive consciousness in the world. The whole is contained. By intimately knowing the Self in all its manifestations the world can be approximated.

Another scientific development with interesting implications for the world of art, is the concept of dissipative structures for which Ilya Prigogine received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977 According to Prigogine, order does not always come about through strict adherence to rules. Most often order and organization arise spontaneously through a process of self-organization The implications of this process, observed in chemical solutions and mathematically verified, for the creative process is obvious. The artist has to accept the inherent energy of his or her creation and be led by it. Not to be in full control, but to be controlled by one's creation, is a lesson to be learned from chemistry.

The author also discusses the implications of the emerging force toward holism. In keeping with developments in quantum physics the work of Jan Christiaan Smuts suggests a unity between matter, life and mind. There seems to be a formative tendency at work in the universe which manifests itself at all levels. The creative process evidences such a tendency. Holdstock's focus on holism, furthermore, is a call for recognizing the unitive consciousness between all things, for a return to that which is essential and basic.

In summarizing complex Nobel Prize-winning work concisely and clearly, the author provides a valuable service to the art community. It is important that artists take cognisance of these developments. Its effects on art can be as dramatic as that which occurred at the beginning of the century.

Another feature of Part One of the book pertains to the relationship between archetypal psychology and art. Here Holdstock is in his element. As a psychologist who has travelled on all the by-roads of his discipline, he is well qualified to lead the way into depth and ultimately into archetypal psychology. Of special interert is the connectedness which the author maker between archetypal psychology and Africa's primary ethos. He argues for greater awareness by the artistic community of this dimension of being. "If this transcendence into soul can ever become a reality, the art world is bound to experience a paradigm shift of equal importance to that occurring at present in science."

The second part of the book focuses on the paintings of Monika von Moltke, obviously because the author feels, and nghtly so, that Von Moltke's work "integrates the perspectives of archetypal psychology with the soul of sub-Sahara Africa." Her art "emerges from a collective unconscious which expresses the depths of the human psyche and the essential spirit of Africa." She "gives expression to the primordial images that well up from the hinterland of humankind's consciousness." Holdstock succeeds admiringly well in capturing the essence of Von Moltke's work. He argues that her art can be approached best from a transpersonal perspective which holds that "there is an essential unity underlying the diversity of humanity and the material world." According to the holographic model she seems to be one of those artists who are resonating with the energy emanating from 'dead' objects in nature. The colour plates and monotypes of rock - and animal-like forms vividly demonstrate this unique aspect of her art.

Von Moltke does not only capture human and animal qualities in the inanimate and vice-versa, but it is pointed out how important a variable time is in her art. Some of her paintings capture a time that is timeless. Others reflect decay, but "Mostly, time is a process of actualization." The spatial portrayal of time in Von Moltke's art is surely a demonstration of the relativity theory at work!

Apart from the metamorphosis of an evolutionary nature that characterises Von Moltke's art, Holdstock points out that it is also the nature of personal transformation in her work, which gives her paintings so much meaning and such a unique philosophical undertone.

Frequent use is made in her art of stones, animals and geometric forms as symbols of the self. Especially intriguing are the circular shapes which have become increasingly more prominent in her latest paintings.

In addition to these symbols of the Self, Holdstock uses the archetypes of the Earth Mother and Hades, the god of depths, to investigate Von Moltke's art. Apart from adding to the understanding of the paintings, the discussion of depth psychological concepts is interesting in its own right. It is a level of analysis that is all too rare in South Africa, even though, as Holdstock intimates, South Africa as part of the African continent, has a great deal to offer with respect to Jungian psychology.

The book offers a fresh perspective, both with respect to the content of the writing and the nature of the art. It ought to be of interest to people in many disciplines - artists, psychologists and scientists alike. The author's attempt to integrate art, psychology, science and poetry is indeed a courageous one it calls for an holistic approach with far reaching consequences for the way we approach our art and science. However, be warned. Even though the book deals with complicated concepts in an uncomplicated way, it still requires concentrated reading. Fur the reader who is willing to make the effort. the reward is well worth it, though.

The book consists of 95 pages, with 31 colour and 35 black and white reproductions. The colour reproductions are of good quality and the lay-out of the book is attractive.