What is Transcendental or Visionary Art?


Transcendental or Visionary art isn't so much a movement as it is a theme. The style of the individual artists will vary radically, but their common theme is their attempt to portray the world beyond physical sight and to overlap mystical and spiritual ideas. Visionary art purports to transcend the physical and scientific world and give the audience a virtual vision (hence the name Visionary Art) of what the world might look like if we could see spiritual and mystical things in our every day life. The type of mystical energies portrayed in Visionary Art varies from artist to artist, but the four elements (water, fire, earth and wind), love, lust, holy, unholy, positive and negative forces are all reasonably common.

Above: "The Gift of Warmth and Light"  by Robert daCosta

Art that deals with such themes isn't new either. Wiliam Blake, Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Gustave Moreau, Remedios Varo, Frida Kahlo, Edward Burne Jones, and Samuel Palmer are notable examples of artists who dealt with the theme of overlapping the real world with an imagined world of mystical energies. Some artists, like William Blake, even claimed to talk to angels and claimed they could see into this other world.

In the U.S. the term "Transcendental" painting was associated with a group that formed one of the most prominent of the modernist art movements in New Mexico, and it embraced abstraction to a higher degree than most.

The group stated its position in its manifesto clearly and succinctly: “The word Transcendental has been chosen as a name for the Group because it best expresses its aim, which is to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new concepts of space, color, light and design, to imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual.”

The group’s work was influenced by earlier movements and schools, including Cubism, De Stijl, and the Bauhaus. Although abstraction was their primary concern, the Transcendentalists often worked figuratively, a fact borne out by the work on exhibit in The Art of the Transcendental Painters at Addison Rowe Gallery. The show demonstrates how these artists — Raymond Jonson, Emil Bisttram, Stuart Walker, Howard Cook, and Beatrice Mandelman among them — carried out their mission. The movement was short-lived, shining for a brief time in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but its influence continued long after the movement came to an end.