Book review: The Other Side, Jennifer Higgie

An exploration of the nexus between art and spirituality.

The Other Side is a an engaging and thought-provoking book. It is, in part, a serious look at a cohort of accomplished women artists whose work has been largely lost or overlooked by the art establishment; it’s also a charming and poetic stroll through esoterica and the spirit world. 

Jennifer Higgie makes an excellent guide for this sojourn through the ways of knowing and believing that are not constrained by reason and the material world. She is a respected arts writer and art historian who has lived in London and worked internationally for many years; she also has a personal interest in the arcane. And while many male artists and writers have openly dabbled in the spirit world, from Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee to CS Lewis and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, their female counterparts were, of necessity, usually more circumspect about admitting to their interests. 

Higgie goes beyond the art history to explore the leading esoteric beliefs of the grand Victorian age including Theosophy and Spiritualism. These were both very much the domain of women from Theosophy’s colourful Madame Blavatsky to the Fox sisters who gave rise to modern Spiritualism and the many mediums who held home séances and communed regularly with the dead.

The Other Side takes us on a fascinating promenade through the solace of ritual, the gender exclusions of art history, the contemporary relevance of myth, the boom in alternative ways of understanding the world, the enduring fairies in the garden, and the impact of Spiritualism on feminism and contemporary art. There is a small selection of colour plates to bring to life some of these little-known artworks.

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Higgie has a relaxed, conversation writing style and also shares some of her own creative and spiritual journey, making this a delightful melange of memoir, philosophy and art history. Highly recommended for anyone with interests in art and spirituality.

The Other Side: A Journey into Women, Art and the Spirit World by Jennifer Higgie
Publisher: Hachette
ISBN: 9781474623339
Format: Paperback 
Pages: 312pp
Publication date: 14 February 2023
RRP: $34.99

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.