Art & Culture

The no-BS guide to psychedelic art history

Instead of starting this piece out the way my teachers would expect me to, by noting the fact that the term “psychedelic” was coined by psychiatrist Osmond Humphry in 1957, making use of the Greek words “psyche” (mind) and “delos” (make visible), we will kick off with a hippie joke. 

How do you know if a hippie has been to your house? 

They’re still there!

Before clicking out, please remember the psychedelic art movement revolves around the love and acceptance we are supposed to give freely, as we are one with everything around us. So, in a sense, you made this joke.

Surrealist inspiration and spiritual ties

The psychedelic art movement resembles the surrealist movement in the sense that they are both conditioned by a prescribed mechanism by which one obtains his inspiration. While the surrealists that preceded the Summer of Love, such as Remedios Varo, Gustav Klimt, Andre Mason and the (even-more) famous Dali were surrendering their creation process to their dreams, the psychedelic art movement revolves around the euphoric and highly hallucinatory states brought by consuming psychedelic drugs.

One would argue that these artistic movements were dependent of important developments in science, whereas the surrealist delved deep into Freud’s theory of the unconscious, the psychedelic artist’s conceptual birth was a direct result of Hoffman’s discovery of the LSD.

Andre Masson – L’ame de Napoleon

Considering the high -ahem- pedestal on which the dream world and sacred inebriants were placed upon by a plethora of civilizations, and how they were closely tied together in Native American cultures, and later, Eastern Mysticism, it becomes easy to see how these artistic movements came to have so much in common. They are both unruled expressions of some of the most spiritual and unapologetically divine experiences, in which we completely surrender what we think we know about our realities. 

This becomes highly obvious when comparing both of their features, which include metaphysical subjects, kaleidoscopical, fractal or paisley patterns, bright and/or highly contrasting colours and extreme depth of details.

Gustav Klimt – Water Serpents II

The psychedelic art ignition

So where did the psychedelic art flame ignite and how did it came to be so representative and mainstream? Although we’d like to think the movement ignited as a sole result of the revolutionary political, social and spiritual sentiments of the time, inspired by the divine experiences LSD consumers had, it was a bit more than that and, ironically, it started more as a business venture for music producer Chet Helms (none other than the one responsible for Janis Joplin – thank you, Chet!).

Mid sixties, the hippies were doing their hippy thing in the “Family Dog” commune, throwing open dances and psychedelic shenanigans events, when they took contact with Helms, which was not a stranger of the movement himself.

Chet Helms at the Avalon Ballroom. Later he would launch Family Dog Productions.

The hippies were having a great time, a small audience and a lot of artists. Chet Helms had the fame and the vision, and be it luck, be it more powerful forces at play, he decided to mobilize everyone and organize some big ticket concerts in California, for which he hired Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, his Family Dog buddies to create promotional posters. 

Aside from them, he commissioned Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson (which, fun fact is the inventor of the most popular psychedelic font, which can be seen on most of these posters).

Original Wes Wilson poster for Grateful Dead

Their trippy poster had a unique feeling to them, summarizing the visual experience of an LSD trip (duh), but elements of Art Nouveau, Dada and Pop Art were also present. All in all, it was a fresh style, really attention grabbing, which aligned perfectly with the altered states of consciousness spree the country was going through.

In consequence, the posters compelled over 100,000 people to flock to California in 1967 to explore the area’s concerts and subculture – this is now known as the Summer of Love and the 5 commissioned artists were now known as the Big Five, who single handedly sparked the Psychedelic Art movement and watched it burn hot. 

Later we see other artists win their rightful spotlight, like Bonnie MacLean and Marijke Koger, who was surnamed the Mother of Psychedelic Art and who was responsible of a couple Beatles cover artworks.  Mati Klarwein paved the way for more psychedelic album covers – his style seems to be influential to the today’s “collage” aesthetic. Karl Ferris dabbled in psychedelic photography and created some album covers for Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana.

Poster by Marijke Koger

In 1974, the US government commissioned Peter Max to create a psychedelic postage stamp, which was a “Preserve the Environment” power move. His stamp was actually use and with a bit of luck, you may find some original ones for sale on Ebay or Etsy. 

Peter Max’s commissioned postage stamp

Internationally, it caught fire – a British studio was responsible with the creation of artwork for some of the most prominent musical artist of the time, such as Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin, Genesis and many more.

Contemporary psychedelic art

Even if the psychedelic movement is said to have flourished between 1966 and 1972, a quick Google search will tell you that it never (and I mean never) died. Today there is a plethora of psychedelic artist and it makes a lot of sense, since this art was always eye-candy and people never really stopped doing hallucinogenic drugs.

On the contrary, we see a substantial growth in the number of users with the decriminalization of such drugs and the more and more studies on the subject proving they are nothing but a great way to heal mental maladies such as depression, addiction and anxiety.

As a closing, I’ll leave you with some contemporary psychedelic artists worth checking out:

Stay trippy, little hippy! (OK, I’m sorry)

Social Marketing

How to build a following by curating art online

Gone are the days in which art authorities would need to be armed with a solid financial backup and an impeccable set of connections. Just as retail, interaction, self-promoting, art has seen a tremendous transformation with the growth of social media platforms and we’re here for it.

Not only was this a huge step up for artists everywhere in the way they showcased and sold their art, but it made it increasingly easier for everyone – established artist or art aficionado to curate a collection of pieces online, with the portable device in their pockets and a little spare time each day.

Today, there are countless online showcases, many of which have risen along with Instagram becoming the leading social media platform over these last few years.

Traditional art mediums, digital painting, graphic design, interiors, fashion, generative, if it’s something that tickles your eye, there’s probably an Instagram account curating up to 10 posts a day.

Photo by 冬城

Why curating art online is a big deal for everyone

1. End users love an account that can deliver new content that fits into their aesthetics several times per day. It’s like subscribing to an artist’ hub that all fit your tastes without having to roam the various channels looking for several of them.

2. It’s a great way to connect to artists they, otherwise, wouldn’t have found by themselves.

3. End users are also exposed to a larger community that shares their tastes and this keeps them engaged in that niche. It’s always more fun to be part of an active community than roam the roads of Internet alone, right?

4. Artists get free exposure (-5 points for using the word “exposure, but it had to be said) and precious back links to their profile, which in turn results in a bigger audience with little to no effort since they are using work that was already published on various channels. This means no more waiting for a socially acceptable time amount to pass before reposting your old work. It’s basically Throwback Tuesday the whole week ’round.

5. They’re a marvelous place for artists to network and engage with people who they might later convert or collaborate with. Imagine the opportunities you get, as an artist, by hosting your own, private, open 24/7 networking cocktail party that you attend in your pajamas. It does not get better than this.

6. And lastly, they’re easy to set up, easy to manage and grow organically, and they translate into an important podium from which you can express your artistic vision, clouded only by your platform’s of choice censorship terms.

How to build your audience by curating art

Look around. The easiest and most practical way of learning a new skill is watching authorities doing it and trying to mimic.

Subscribe to a few communities. Skip throughout Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and other image based platforms. Search for relevant hashtags to your particular style. Find artists to follow that cater to a certain niche. Build a rapid flow of art into your feeds that you can later redistribute. You can find small artist pages in the recent sections of social media and portfolio websites such as Deviant Art, Art station. This might be the single most important part of all of this. Weather you’d like to post in the thrill of the moment, when an artwork sparks your interest and admiration, or you prefer a more mechanical, business-like approach to it, the most important thing to have is a lot of fresh, quality artwork coming to you.

This is by no means hard as there are a plethora of amazing artists all around the Internet, in every possible medium, just waiting to be discovered.

Next, you need to establish a brand for yourself. Curators need to have a very fluid aesthetic and post relevant content religiously as well as keep in check their overall persona. Make it so at a quick glance anyone could say what your page is about. Commit to a tone when posting captions – decide if you’re an objective observer, enthusiast admirer, humorous bandit, what have you. Sticking to a certain tone for posts and captions makes it easier for the audience to humanize and remember you. What does your bio say? Do you use emojis in your comments? Do your captions start with a capital letter? Are you going to tell your audience what you had for lunch some days? These are all aspects of how they perceive you, so you should establish a few ground rules of how you’re going to present yourself. Remember, people are going to follow what they can relate to, so these are your only decisions regarding the type of audience you’re going to have.

Once you’ve established your voice and a good inflow of art, it’s time to decide how much time you’d like to spend on a regular basis mending your art garden. Then divide this time into the various tasks you’ll have to keep up with for optimal growth – browsing for art, posting and engaging the audience, replying to promotion inquiries and research of other similar accounts.

Some things to consider while planning your tasks may be downloading art in bulk from various platforms (do not forget to rename the file with the artist’s info so you can properly credit them) to post over the span of a week, for example. Then you can use Instagram manager apps to schedule posts several times per day at the hours when you’ll get the most reach, as well as planning your feed’s overall look for the branding purposes I mentioned earlier.

Instagram Managers to help you grow a following

  1. Loomly – This is a powerhouse for social media strategists everywhere. It has a desktop and an app version, which are synchronized. You can schedule posts weeks in advance, save hashtag groups and collaborate with your peers. You also get a 15 days trial (no credit card required) to test it.
  2. Later – Later has this big advantage to it that it is free for individuals, letting you post up to 30 posts per month. Their paid subscription is also a lot cheaper than other schedulers, at a whopping $7 a month. They provide training and workshops for Instagram Aesthetics and Pinterest marketing strategies. They’re awesome.
  3. Planoly – Planoly is the corporate sweetheart of Instagram Marketing. Their free plan also includes 30 posts per month, but their lowest-paid tier ($7 billed annually, otherwise $9) includes analytics, the best time to post and much much more.

Final steps in creating your online gallery

Once you’ve got everything up and running, it’s just a matter of time before your audience starts growing. We’re talking a few thousands followers per month with a bit of effort and a solid posting schedule. You need to use social platforms’ algorithms in your favor, and this means posting relevant content regularly (the more, the better), using engaging captions that encourage people to comment on your posts and having activity on other profiles that reassemble your scope. You can also expand to Pinterest in order to get more followers for your page. Creating good looking Pins of your best performing Instagram posts will most definitely help bring people on your page and it takes very little time.

Anything being this is a waiting and consistency game. Instagram loves an account that will not miss days in their posting schedule, and just keeping at it, engaging other Instagram accounts and a solid use of hashtags will do the trick.

Apart from the obvious benefits of having a large following, creating a curator account will do wonders for your promotion skills, which you can later use for bringing your own art forward. All the time spending finding artwork will heighten your creativity and motivation. And on top of that, you are helping fellow artists worldwide grow their own followings. It really is a helpful and fulfilling hobby that’s going to teach you a lot and help heighten all of your other projects.

I cannot wait to see how the Internet will further revolutionize art, but until then, you can find me in awe of some people’s work online.