Die Windsbraut and the Lingering Shadow

The beauty, eccentricity and sorrow of the life of the Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka is eloquently expressed in his most famous work Die Windsbraut (The Tempest/The Storm, sometimes called The Bride of the Wind). Expressionist in style, cool in tone, comforting despite the turbulence of the brush strokes. Kokoschka served in the First World War and was eventually diagnosed as mentally unfit after being wounded in action.

The love that inspired this particular work was the widow of the famed composer Gustav Mahler, Alma Mahler. It was a troubled, fleeting relationship, but from it emerged The Tempest, and his poem “Allos Markar”.

Not to be deterred by the vicissitudes of reality, and perhaps an early model for the recent film “Lars and the Real Girl”, Kokoschka had a life-sized doll of Alma created. He took his ersatz bride to the opera on occasion, went to parties with her and had a maid to dress her. There were also, at the very least, insinuations that he was treating the doll… well, in the way that men tend to treat “Real Girls”.

According to Pliny painting originated when a woman traced her lover’s shadow on the wall. He would leave in the morning. He would never return. In a similar vein, many commentators have connected art with loss.

Kokoschka seems to have relived the legend.

While looking up information I also came accros a song by the German neo-folk group Belborn:

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The Chemical Wedding of Art and Science, the Secular and Sacred

I still do not know quite what to think of the relationship between Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson and the occult. His fifth solo album “Chemical Wedding”, the single “Man of Sorrows” and his hand in writing the recent film also titled “Chemical Wedding”. The songs on the album are harder than the pieces he worked on with Iron Maiden, but they do evince more than a passing familiarity with occult thought and symbology. I have yet to see his film, but my most respected esoteric friend seems very critical of it. Still, I remain curious.

The occult has had a long and productive relationship with art, which is intriguing for the divide between the esoteric and exoteric demands of the tradition. Yet they both function through similar, metaphorical channels and ways of thinking, and, like Goethe’s claim in Faust, can be hidden openly in the artistic work. Not only hidden, I contend, but addressed and developed as well. Representative of the divide between Newtonian and Goethean alchemy, it has been the primary mode of esoteric exploration in the west since the Enlightenment. Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, Peter Birkhäuser, Achille-Claude Debussy, William Blake, and many more besides. At the end of the 19th century the Newtonian interest in the occult, that is to say, the experimental, physical emphasis, looked to be reviving in the work of the London Society for Psychical Research, with William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace, Oliver Lodge and the journalist W.T. Stead’s efforts at the scientific popularization of esoteric research. Unlike many other modes of thought, it seems likely that this realm of exploration benefits equally from artistic and scientific exploration, for both its psychological and physical effects on human knowledge, and the primary place of pattern recognition in its myriad manifestations.

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