Art Oracles – An Art Historian’s Wet Dream

If you know anything about me you’ll know that I spend several hours a week perusing the well-being section at local bookstores. I do not know if it was by divine intervention that yesterday I happened to find one of the coolest things I have ever come across before. I am not even sure it was meant to be in the well-being section but I happened across it there regardless and proceeded to jump up in glee when I realized what it was.

The object I am referring to is a box full of 50 cards with illustrations of artists on them providing advice on life, work and inspiration drawn from the individual artist’s life and work. They look like new age art history tarot cards. A booklet comes with the box to consult when looking for more information about the particular artist found on a card. It is not only a tool for inspiration for each card will offer some form of advice or sentiment about life, but also a great teaching tool for educating on the great canon of art history. I am a Art History major at Carleton University and I can tell you that these artsy tarot cards literally turned me on.


The Art Oracle cards are simple to use in that you just choose one and read it, whether you shuffle the deck and pick a card at random or go through all the cards and stumble upon one that catches your eye. The point is to consult a card and draw what inspiration you can from it or if you’re a nerd like me see this card as a jumping off point for further research on the artist. I have decided to do a “reading” and consult the Art Oracles once a week and write a blog post on the inspiration I drew from this card and provide a short summary about the artist who provided the inspiration.


Today, I drew the “Yayoi Kusama” artist card which is very fitting if you’ve been keeping up with my blog at all. Kusama has struggled with her mental health since a child when she first had hallucinations imagining a pumpkin was speaking to her. She dealt with her hallucinations by drawing repetitive patterns to “obliterate” the thoughts in her head.  Art became a form of therapy, what she would later call ­“art-medicine.” She voluntarily lives in a mental institution in Japan where she draws on her visions and hallucinations for inspiration.

Polka-dots are a reoccurring element in Kusama’s work which she describes as the shape that makes us humans (composed of particles), and unites us with the Earth and Sun. Kusama, however, is most recognized for her Infinity Rooms which are mirrored artistic chambers that multiply bodies and alter perceptions. Kusama’s kaleidoscopic environments offers the chance to step into an illusion of infinite space. The rooms also provide an opportunity to examine the artist’s central themes, such as the celebration of life and its aftermath.

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Installation view of Infinity Mirrored Room — Love Forever (1966/1994) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017.

Yayoi Kusama is one of the artists represented in the Art Oracles. The image of her in a polka-dot dress against a similar polka-dot background is indicative of her art which heavily features this shape. The card offers three pieces of advice drawn from three key elements of the artist’s life. The advice is the following: 1. Your soul is composed of the same dots as the universe, 2. Distinguish yourself from your mirror image, and 3. Show them your hallucinations. I have provided an image of the specific artist card below:


I found it interesting that the first card I drew from the pile of 50 artist cards was this one. The fact that the advice offered was to “Show them your hallucinations” blew my mind. I have been considering writing a chapter on my visual and auditory hallucinations for my autobiography. This card has inspired me to definitely write and include a chapter on my hallucinations. But what were the odds of me drawing first a card on an artist who struggles with mental health like I do!? I know what you’re thinking, 1 in 50, but I mean isn’t this a sign? I am not overly spiritual but I do believe we are meant to encounter certain people and things in our lives at just the moment we need them most. I think I needed to find the Art Oracles to remind me of the joy I experience when studying Art History and also to give me a little push to start writing that chapter on hallucinations sooner than later.

The Art Oracles are great if you want a bite-size Art History lesson and great for drawing inspiration if you are artistically blocked or need a push in the right direction. The cards themselves are also very beautiful pieces of art in themselves, illustrated by Mikkel Sommer. Sommer did an amazing job providing illustrations that really embody the life and work of the specific artist illustrated. If you have an infinity for art or for simply really cool things, I highly recommend purchasing the Art Oracles at your local bookstore.


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