Forms of Enchantment: Writings on Art and Artists
Inspiring and highly engaging, Forms of Enchantment unites the imaginations of artist, writer and reader, forging a reading experience which parallels the intrinsic pleasure of looking at art.
In this anthology of compelling essays, Marina Warner explores the layers of allusion, symbols and stories underlying art from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries. She makes the case for a uniquely writerly way of thinking with and about art and artists, setting out to share the dynamism, fluidity and passions of the objects of her enquiry.
Approaching art and artists primarily through the fields of anthropology, mythology and fairy tale, Warner argues for art’s place in society as a site of enchantment; a realm in which imagination holds the key to knowledge and understanding. She argues that art has powers of transformation, and that it fulfills today many of the needs that religious assembly used to meet, including reflections on ethical issues. Art and artists have shaped thinking about sex, death, bodies, evil; the images artists make, in different media, reflect and convey contemporary values while interrogating them and, increasingly in our time, resisting prevalent accepted views and proposing alternatives.
Metamorphosis features vividly across the imagery, media and subject matter of the artworks selected, including work by Paula Rego, Damien Hirst, Louise Bourgeois, Tacita Dean and Hieronymus Bosch. This collection engages with artists – particularly women artists – noted for reaching beyond the visible and transforming a rich inner life into uncanny, sometimes disturbing matter.
The earliest pieces in this book were written in the 1980s, the most recent in 2017. The selection does not follow a chronological order but is divided into four themed sections. Part One, Playing in the Dark, explores the correspondences between make-believe and making art, between the child’s projection of the world through toys and the artist’s modeling of experience. Part Two, Bodies of Sense, takes up the exploration of the body chiefly but not only by women artists, who have wrought profound transformations on the art scene itself and on the language artists use materially and thematically. In Part Three, Spectral Technologies, the focus changes to the potential of new media, since the coming of photography and the cinema, to explore the limits of bodily vision and make visible phenomena otherwise unavailable to the senses. Part Four takes its title, Iconoclashes, from the remarkable, hugely ambitious exhibition by Bruno Latour at the ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, in 2002. His argument was prescient; since then, the wars over images have spread.
Forms of Enchantment takes as its premise the idea that images have power and can impinge on the world as active agents, and Warner explores how artists consciously catalyse that power.
"Warner listens carefully to her artists, and a fertile commentary on those who challenge entrenched aesthetics – and the ideologies that underpin them – emerges, along with their organic, erotic and uncanny alternatives."
‘Heady, thought-provoking stuff here: the author has a knack of taking initially complex subjects and making them accessible and reachable’
"What stands out in this work is the depth of her engagement: she does not simply look hard at each artist's work but interrogates hard, too. Her approach is more philosophical and psychological than art historical and what draws her to her subjects is their storytelling. … In looking for her artists' stories she tells unfamiliar ones of her own."
Michael Prodger, Royal Academy Arts Magazine, No. 140, Autumn 2018
Warner brings her capacious knowledge of myth, fairy tale, aesthetics, religion, and literature to these erudite and luminous essays on art and artists… Warner sees art criticism as an aesthetic project in its own right, not merely ‘an accompaniment, as a pianist plays for a singer…’ She succeeds impressively… Fertile, probing responses to the transformative power of art.