Are You Experienced?
Are You Experienced?
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Are You Experienced?: How Psychedelic Consciousness Transformed Modern Art

Author: Ken Johnson

From the Author

Something unprecedented happened in America in the mid-1960s: LSD and other aggressively hallucinogenic drugs became available on a mass basis and millions of people avidly consumed them in order to experience mystical states of mind once reserved for small numbers of eccentric seekers. This development spawned a terrifically energetic psychedelic culture, which embraced the music of the Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan and the Beatles; the novels of Tom Robbins and Thomas Pynchon, the experimental films of Jordan Belson and Michael Snow, mainstream movies like Easy Rider and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the t.v. shows Laugh In and The Smothers Brothers, and the politics of Abbie Hoffman and the Weather Underground. Psychedelia grew so popular as to become almost synonymous with mainstream entertainment.

Meanwhile, the character of cutting edge visual art underwent a paradigmatic change. No longer was art something just to appreciate for its aesthetic qualities. Traditional connoisseurship was out; consciousness-altering experience was in. Boundaries between conventional media such as painting and sculpture became fluid and porous. Hierarchical distinctions collapsed; weird new forms proliferated. Shamanism, Eastern religions, video and film joined the mix, and viewers ventured into the space and time of art via illusionism, moving imagery and enveloping installations.

In Are You Experienced? I contend that the widespread consumption of consciousness-altering drugs, the rise of psychedelic culture and the transformation of modern art were profoundly related. My book is not a tell-all expose. Who did or did not do drugs was not my concern. Rather, I looked for evidence of psychedelic sensibility in art itself, and I found it in works as various as R. Crumbs underground comics, Robert Smithsons Spiral Jetty , Cindy Shermans faux-film stills, Jeff Koons and the Balloon Dog, Pipilotti Rists videos and even Richard Serras hulking, spiral mazes of thick, rusty steel.

The most compelling artists of the past half century have in common a preoccupation with consciousness and, especially, states of consciousness once thought to deviate from the normal. This was the result of a great change in thinking about the relationship between mind and world. Once it commonly was thought that the job of consciousness was to adapt and conform to reality, which, however mysteriously obscure, was basically fixed by God or by the implacable processes of material being. After the psychedelic revolution, it seemed the opposite could be the case: reality might be a function of consciousness. Change your mind and the world changes. Philosophers have toyed with this idea for centuries; psychedelics and psychedelic culture made it plausible for millions who never read a word of Kant. Under this new mental regime, the job of art became to make consciousness more conscious of itself and of the ways it shapes an infinitely fluid reality.



  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Prestel USA (May 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3791344986
  • ISBN-13: 978-3791344980
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 11 inches

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