Spiritual Moderns: Twentieth-Century American Artists and Religion (Hardcover)

Spiritual Moderns: Twentieth-Century American Artists and Religion By Erika Doss Cover Image
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Examines how and why religion matters in the history of modern American art.
Andy Warhol is one of the best-known American artists of the twentieth century. He was also an observant Catholic who carried a rosary, went to mass regularly, kept a Bible by his bedside, and depicted religious subjects throughout his career. Warhol was a spiritual modern: a modern artist who appropriated religious images, beliefs, and practices to create a distinctive style of American art.
Spiritual Moderns centers on four American artists who were both modern and religious. Joseph Cornell, who showed with the Surrealists, was a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Mark Tobey created pioneering works of Abstract Expressionism and was a follower of the Bahá’í Faith. Agnes Pelton was a Symbolist painter who embraced metaphysical movements including New Thought, Theosophy, and Agni Yoga. And Warhol, a leading figure in Pop art, was a lifelong Catholic. Working with biographical materials, social history, affect theory, and the tools of art history, Doss traces the linked subjects of art and religion and proposes a revised interpretation of American modernism.

About the Author

Erika Doss is an art historian whose books include Benton, Pollock, and the Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism; Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy; Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America; and American Art of the 20th–21st Centuries. Doss is Distinguished Chair in the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Praise For…

"Doss’s clear and cogent prose, accented by crisp illustrations of key works and supported by extensive research, make this distinctly focused and illuminating study an essential choice for art history collections."
— Carolyn Mulac

"Spiritual Moderns bravely retells the story of modern art, fraught as it may be, with a more honest look at how religion shaped it. . . . Through a series of four case studies, along with an intro and conclusion, Doss exposes how earlier historians of modern art have downplayed religion as a key ingredient in some of modern art’s most heralded breakthroughs. . . . [Doss's] strength as a historian shines bright."
— Hyperallergic

Named one of The Best Art Books of 2023
— Hyperallergic

"Doss reclaims American modernism’s religious element...Spiritual Moderns casts new light on the history of American art."
— William J. Schultz

“Doss successfully demonstrates that the story of American modernism is not as secular as it is often presumed to be, and shows without telling that art criticism and history that disregard religion are necessarily shallower than a discourse open to religious thinking and concerns.”
— The Brooklyn Rail

"Spiritual Moderns investigates how four 20th-century American modernist artists integrated their non-mainstream religious beliefs and commitments into their work. . . . Doss provides artist bios and helpful descriptions of the main characteristics and practices of their religious traditions. . . . The book presents convincing cultural history that brings religious influences forward. . . Recommended."
— Choice

"Erika Doss presents a convincing challenge to the prevailing omission of religion in the story of twentieth-century modernist art in the United States. . . .  an exemplary model."
— Panorama

“Through detailed accounts of the life and work of four twentieth-century American artists, Doss works to unseat the notion that modern art and religion, or spirituality more generally, are incompatible and separate. She compellingly demonstrates how the significance of religion and spirituality in artistic practice has been suppressed and disavowed, or, alternatively, has contributed to an artist’s lesser status within the art-historical literature. In each thoroughly researched and lucidly written chapter, she illuminates the importance of religion and spirituality for these artists and in so doing deepens our understanding of their work.”
— Rachael Z. DeLue, Christopher Binyon Sarofim ’86 Professor in American Art, Princeton University

Spiritual Moderns is an apt extension of Doss’s rigorous art-historical scholarship, and there is a great need for this study. As Doss persuasively argues, it is time that the field of modern American art history recognized the singular importance of religion and spirituality within the production and reception of twentieth-century American art. The canonical figures Doss considers engaged deeply with their respective religious traditions while challenging conventional orthodoxies and crafting unique images of transcendence. Doss offers a compelling revisionist account of modern American art history and the cultural work that religion and spirituality performed, historically and aesthetically.”
— Marcia Brennan, Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Humanities, Rice University

Product Details
ISBN: 9780226820910
ISBN-10: 0226820912
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2023
Pages: 352