Bryn Athyn College Alumni Magazine Fall/Winter 2017-18 - Page 17

Siri Yardumnian Hurst, Elly Mulder, Lisa Hyatt Cooper (BS '76), and Helen Kennedy Devin Zuber (BA '00) introduces the next speaker This past summer, Bryn Athyn College hosted an international conference on Swedenborg and the Arts. Dr. Paul Ivey (Arizona) and Holly Mitchem (GTU, Berkeley) as “western esotericism” and “new religious move- ments”). All together, our collective time and conver- sations were, in the words of some of the participants, “ground-breaking,” and “a great success … a dynamic pulse beat through all the papers.” The conference commenced almost exactly 208 years after the great Romantic artist and poet Wil- liam Blake (1757—1827) set up a small exhibition of his unusual paintings on the second floor of his brother’s hosiery shop. Ab ove the stockings, tights, and socks, Blake hung 16 of his most daring paint- ings, including an illustration of a visionary scene drawn from the memorable relations of Swedenborg, from his Apocalypse Revealed. Blake self-published an accompanying catalogue to this one-man show, and in that catalogue, he proudly proclaimed that the works of Swedenborg “are well worthy the attention of Painters and Poets,” that they were “the Founda- tions for Grand Things.” Not a single person engaged with Blake’s exhibi- tion beyond his immediate family, however, not one of his paintings was sold, and the humiliation of his failed presentation before the public would come to haunt Blake’s subsequent years. And yet, as with so many things in Blake, his unusual remarks seem un- cannily prescient for what was to come: his signaling the value of Swedenborg’s writings as a “foundation for Grand Things” anticipated the substantial ways that later generations of Romantic and post-Roman- tic painters, poets, and sculptors turned to Sweden- borg for inspiration and for thinking about aesthet- ics and creativity. A major aim of the conference was to better un- derstand the conditions that led to this ready trans- position of Swedenborgian theology into the realm of the aesthetic: how and why Swedenborg’s writ- B RY N AT H Y N A LU M N I M AG A Z I N E | 17