|Space, art and mystic contemplation. The Catholic self-fashioning of converted avant-gardists|
|Individual religious conversions are a modern phenomenon. They start to appear at the end of the eighteenth century and always entail a complex transformation of lifes and thoughts. For avant-gardist artists who converted to Catholicism after the First World War, mysticism often served as a science pilote in the process of remoulding identities. Daily life, theoretical thinking and artistic work became inspired, guided and, to some extent, even structured by mystical theories and practices.
In this paper I will focus on how converted artists inscribed, presented, and enacted mysticism in (the story of) their life during the 1920s and 1930s. The conversion of two theoreticians of art will be subjected to a close reading: the Belgian-French writer Michel Seuphor, a pioneer in the field of abstract art theory, and the German literator Hugo Ball, one of the initiators of the Dada movement. Both are mostly known for the primordial role they played in the development of modernism. By now, their spiritual reconfiguration, which was directly based on the interaction of art philosophical ideas and mystical reading has been largely forgotten.
I will focus on this ignored convergence of modern art and mysticism by analyzing how Ball and Seuphor colored their lives with mysticism. Combining writing (articles, memoires, novels) and dwelling (starting a new life in a remote village), they colored their lives with mysticism. In my analysis, two fields of inquiry will be cut across. In the first place, I will dissect how their home in a remote place functioned as a shelter against the modern world. At the same time, this spot functioned as a lab for the development of mystical exultation. In the second place, I will focus on Seuphor’s and Ball’s pursuit of a systematic theory of art. Mystical discourses also offered both artists an important hermeneutic frame to conceptualize their aesthetical thoughts.
Analyzing the entanglement of mystic theory and mystic life in Seuphor and Ball, I will demonstrate that the spiritual dimension of modern art (the so-called ‘path to the absolute’) was not only based on esoteric or occult writings. A creative reinterpreting of traditional Catholic mystical writing also constituted a spiritual journey in a rapidly changing world.