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jennifer higgie : the other side : an intriguing read


This is a fascinating examination and blend of art, science, theology and mysticism , packed with information. The research is amazing . Jennifer Higgie writes in an easy to read style with great acuteness and perception . There’s a table of contents , a prologue there are twenty two chapters , a bibliography , notes and an index .It is of medium size and thickness , with both black and white and colour illustrations. The timeline takes us from roughly 35,00 BCE , through to ancient Greek and Roman art up to the present day. Each chapter has a catchy title.

We see how women are represented in art, the influence of established religion, and the restrictive ,patronising attitudes to women artists in general over time. How does one define creativity?

THE OTHER SIDE ponders the connection between art and the spirit world . What is a ‘ spirit ‘? Are they real? Does our spirit continue after bodily death in this world ? How – indeed can – we draw on them for inspiration? Can we contact the muse? Are we truly able to contact loved ones who have passed through the veil ? Higgie also considers the use of Ouija boards, Tarot , crystals , rituals , ghosts and hauntings ,automatic writing and drawing etc , theosophy ,‘ spirit photos’ and looks at some of the great fakes especially in the late nineteenth /early twentieth century . The extraordinary life of the renowned Madame Blavatsky is mentioned and then there is also a discussion about the fake Cottingley fairies and how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was duped.

The book splendidly delves into the various worlds of women artists and the way female artists were (and in some cases are still ) restricted , obscured and at times treated as almost invisible. Art training at respected schools was practically forbidden and unavailable (no nude drawing! Yet women could pose as models) .Women had no vote , no right to own property and were treated as the property of a male .Higgie shows readers how diverse male artists explored and were motivated by various manifestations of spiritualism –even for example  including illustrious  modernist artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich , Man Ray  and Paul Klee – without damaging affect. But the women who also were inspired by the same sources (who were sometimes the wives, sisters , daughters or partners) have been obscured and ignored .Higgie then neatly twists the tale, taking readers through from the twelfth -century artist ,composer and mystic Hildegarde of Bingen to artists of today . Sculpture, weaving , textiles and embroidery are also mentioned .The art of Australian Indigenous peoples is briefly mentioned .

Among the female artists Higgie examines following Hildegarde are the nineteenth-century English spiritualist Georgiana Houghton, whose paintings surge, Margaret Watts Hughes , the early twentieth-century Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint, who painted with the help of her spirit guides (and who had a major blockbuster retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim Museum recently )  Annie Besant , the ‘Desert Transcendentalist’, Agnes Pelton, who painted her visions in the desert of California; the Swiss empathetic metaphysical homeopath Emma Kunz, who used geometric drawings to treat her patients; and the abstruse British Surrealist, Ithell Colquhoun, whose huge estate of more than 5,000 works has been absorbed into the  Tate gallery collection and Estella Canziani . Other artists include Suzanne Duchamp, Janet Sobel and Madge Gill. There is also Julia Margaret Cameron , Victoria Woodhall and  Anna Marie Howitt .Higggie also looks at how various Surrealist artists were influenced, and how some of the works led to abstraction. Dance and cinema are also mentioned ( eg Mary Wigman , and a ballet by Linder about Colquhoun) as well as theatre .Also discussed is the way women ,particularly healers with herbs , were regarded as witches ( this still applies in some countries today as well) .

The women were working towards the same objective – transmitting and expressing contact from the time – space continuum .

THE OTHER SIDE is partly autobiographical , Higgie detailing some of her own encounters in a progressive analysis of a relatively obscured team of artists. Higgie analyses the misogyny in art history, the use of ritual , how myths are still significant , the effect of spiritualism on art and the rise of women’s lib , and the expansion of alternative practices in an attempt to understand our world . ( And yes Covid gets a mention ) .A fascinating , intriguing , complex book .







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