A modernist sensibility and Christian wit in the work of Tom Gibbons

Phillip McNamara

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is an investigation of how spiritual ideas have contributed to West Australian academic and artist Tom Gibbons’s approach to Modernism. Against the backdrop of the local context I show how Gibbons’s 1950s undergraduate and 1960s post-graduate studies in the area of the occult and esoteric influences on Early Modernism provided him with an atypical perspective on Modernism itself but that this perspective resulted in his development of a Modernist sensibility particularly suitable for the type of questions asked about art in the later part of last century. My thesis traces Gibbons’s development of an integrated aesthetic “theory” that bridged for him the gap between a host of contrary sources. For Gibbons the bridge between divergent views on art, from the Modern period to the Renaissance period, is an ahistorical perspective based on Christian Immanence. He thus adopted a perspective that redefined the metaphysical aspects of Modernist abstraction through a particular approach to realism which celebrates the everyday world because of the Christian structures that for him condition it. I argue that his sensibility, which combines the stylistic features of a Modernist literature witty juxtaposition, irony and paradox with the concept of Christian Immanence, resulted in an oeuvre which can be read as a particular example of what Ken Wilber in the late 1990s termed Integral Studies. I argue that underlying Gibbons’s use of Christian Immanence is the Integralist’s understanding that the world’s great philosophical and spiritual traditions approach consciousness and experience through similar ideas. The argument presented, in agreement with writers such as Wilber, is that Gibbons’s capacity to develop a sense of life’s irony and metaphor, and to then use this as a capacity to embrace the beauty and outrageousness of the whole, is a mature spirituality that provides an integrated perspective filled with joy for the ordinary. I conclude that his art provides a particular example of how the loss of meaning felt by Modernists may be addressed.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2006

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