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Harrison, A.M. (2008). Exploring the Invisible: Art Science, and the Spiritual. By Lynn Gamwell. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002, 344 pp., $49.95 hardcover, $35.00 paperback.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 56(2):674-678.

(2008). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 56(2):674-678

Exploring the Invisible: Art Science, and the Spiritual. By Lynn Gamwell. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002, 344 pp., $49.95 hardcover, $35.00 paperback.

Review by:
Alexandra M. Harrison

This beautiful and scholarly book by Lynn Gamwell—director of the Art Museum at the State University of New York, Binghamton, curator of the Gallery of Art and Science at the New York Academy of Sciences, and adjunct professor of Science at the School of Visual Arts, New York—sets the goal of “illustrating the influence of the scientific world view on the visual arts and on the development of abstract art.” The book is of potential interest to psychoanalysts both because Gamwell's list of scientific worldviews includes Freud's contributions and because the book considers how changes occur—in particular, how changes in science lead to changes in the visual arts—and the process of change is a central issue in psychoanalysis.

The book is organized in thirteen chapters that cover two centuries of art beginning with “Romanticism” and ending with “Postmodernism.” The text is well written and offers a fascinating survey of the explosion of scientific discovery in this period. In addition, the book is filled with splendid illustrations of the art. Exploring the Invisible is not, however, a casual read; a reader faces the challenge of learning about some complicated scientific advances and their links to contemporaneous artistic developments.

The two centuries explored in the book begin with the French Revolution, which Gamwell sets as the starting point for trends toward modern science and secularism. These trends provided support for a growing middle class that tended to embrace the egalitarian perspective of the scientific method, as well as the values of individualism and self-determination that underlie the field of psychology and the romantic movement. For the geographic center of the movement she first chooses Germany, particularly the philosophy of German Idealism with its vision of the unity of nature preparing the way for the science and art of the future. After the end of World War II, she relocates the geographic center to the United States, with its culture of heterogeneity and utilitarianism, and shifts the artistic focus to abstract art. In distinguishing between earlier versions of abstract art and the abstract art that emerged after the Second World War, Gamwell identifies a wave of abstraction precipitated by the revolution in physics that raised the issue about the extent to which the artist can visualize the invisible realms revealed by science.

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