Shamanism and the Modern Artist

By Mark Levy, PhD



In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ecstasy, the most vital element of religion, has almost disappeared from conventional forms of worship. As a result, some artists have resumed the ancient role of the shaman, "the technician of ecstasy" (Eliade, 1964:4). Shamans have been the intermediaries between ordinary and non-ordinary states of reality. Shamans have visions and record them in poetry, song, and the visual arts for the spiritual and therapeutic benefit of the community. In addition to being seers, shamans are also artists—painters, carvers, musicians, dancers, and storytellers.

"Whatever else he may be, the shaman is a gifted artist," said anthropologist Carlton Coon (in Feldman 1982:3). In this book, Mark Levy looks at modern artists who exhibit the qualities of powerful shamans. In part, this book has come out of teaching an undergraduate course at the San Francisco Art Institute. Dr. Levy found that art students still are subscribing to the nineteenth-century bohemian myth that in order to have a vision one had to, in the words of Rimbaud, "systematically derange" one's senses. Dr. Levy attempts to expose students of art to an alternative myth of the visionary experience that is more positive—a myth rooted in the grounded practice of shamanic techniques.


Mark Levy's meaty scholarship and lucid interpretations demonstrate the power and the centrality of the shamanic mindset in modern and contemporary art. He argues convincingly for the continuing importance of the artist-as-shaman in these supposedly rational times. As Levy insists, art heals and reveals that which science cannot.

Peter Frank
Editor, Visions Art Quarterly


Stimulating and interesting chronicles of
the unconscious and conscious shamanistic dimensions underlying the work of many modern artists.

Michael Harner, PhD
Author of The Way of the Shaman


ISBN: 0962618446
List Price: $14.95
362 Pages, 5.5x8.5


Mark Levy, PhD, is Professor of Art History at California State University at Hayward. He has also taught at Kenyon College, the University of Nevada at Reno, and the San Francisco Art Institute. In addition to this scholarly work as an art historian, he is a prominent San Francisco Bay Area art critic who has published numerous articles and reviews in many of the leading magazines in California and the country. Twelve years ago he was introduced to shamanic techniques by anthropologist Michael Harner.