Thoughtforms cover

As an example of this kind of influence on art, Theosophy founders Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater’s 1901 book “Thought-forms” 1 (see illustrations and extracts and “Thought Forms” cover) and Rudolf Steiner’s post-theosophical Athroposophy (which contained a detailed theory of colour) had a marked effect on Kandinsky’s direction (“Concerning the spiritual in art” 2), but this was practically ignored until the early 70s, when Sixten Ringböm published “The Sounding Cosmos” 3, a biography that finally acknowledged and detailed Kandinsky's spiritual influences.

Similarly, the occult (in shadow) modes of thought that permeate history also remained largely undocumented or neglected until relatively recently, when the work of Dame Frances Yates4 made the topic respectable once more. Writers like Marina Warner, who curated The Inner Eye exhibition5 on this theme, have continued the work.

More recently, the influence of Theosophy on culture in general has (at last) seen a bloom of serious academic research, triggered especially by formerly-unacknowledged pioneer Hilma Af Klint (whose abstracts predated the similarly-influenced Kandinsky but were not shown publicly outside sympathetic circles) and the later transcendental art groups, as well as many others influenced by Theosophy, a factor that was for decades (after various schisms in the movement) something of an embarrassment to the academy. Yet the vicissitudes of the organisation itself, in contrast to interpretations of the cosmology it inspired in individuals, may be regarded as distinct from each other.

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  1. Besant, Annie and Leadbeater, C.W., “Thought-forms”, Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras, India, 1941 (reprint).
  2. Kandinsky, Wassily, “Über das Geistige in der Kunst” (Concerning the Spiritual in Art), publishing details to follow.
  3. Ringböm, Sixten, “The Sounding Cosmos: a Study in the Spiritualism of Kandinsky and the Genesis of Abstract Painting”, Abo (Finlandia) 1970.
  4. Yates, Frances A., “The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age”, ARK Paperback, London, 1983.
  5. Warner, Marina, “The Inner Eye: Art Beyond the Visible”, Catalogue of exhibition, Manchester, Brighton, Swansea, Dulwich Picture Gallery (London, 1996-97) Vintage (paperback) UK.