The Mystical Now

In a secular age that has seemingly lost all sense of the sacred, contemplative British nun and noted art critic Wendy Beckett takes on a difficult task: to illustrate and reflect on the spiritual in twentieth century art. Drawing on such masters as divergent as the secularist Pablo Picasso and the idealist Piet Mondrian, as well as seventy-three other artists, Beckett establishes the distinctions among religious, spiritual, and sacred art. Her subject is not religious art, which relies on iconography specific to a given religion. Rather, she seeks to demonstrate how art is spiritual when it creates a change in the viewer not activated by a belief or some force outside of the work itself. While the difference between spiritual and sacred art is one of degree, according to Beckett, viewers, regardless of background or beliefs, may find themselves moved by art to an experience similar to prayer if they are open to the truths suggested by the work before them.

Wendy Beckett writes clearly about complex subjects, and she shows herself knowledgeable about a wide range of British, Commonwealth, American, and European art. Her audience will be any readers seeking greater pleasure and insight into art. Yet such readers may be surprised by the spiritual truths Beckett uncovers. Her method is to move from commentary on the lines, style, colors, and subject of a work, and the artist’s philosophy, to spiritual reflection, often ending with an insight relevant to Beckett’s own Christian beliefs. This should not, however, turn non-Christian readers away, for THE MYSTICAL NOW is not primarily a religious book, but one of critical vision attempting to discuss how twentieth century art speaks to humanity’s deepest psychical needs, even when these are dark. With its many color plates, this is a book for meditation on art and the human condition.