At first, I was a little taken aback by the manner in which Namgyal Rinpoche evaluates art, artists and art-making. I found myself thinking from a more curiously reserved “objectivity”: “Well, I’m going to take this with a grain of salt. He sounds a bit too spiritually critical of the artists that don’t fall within his thesis on the meaning of art.”
Yet, it’s a fascinating reflection. I will do my best to capture Namgyal Rinpoche’s thoughts in this first chapter of his book. He begins with what he calls our “first necessity” as human beings. We need to bring everything, “to contain all of the being’s psyche – sensing, feeling, thinking, and the intuitive” towards a place of integration. And Art serves as a “vehicle to bring [a being] to the preordained unfolding of their being.”
If this is a bit confusing, you aren’t alone, I spent a good amount of time explaining these thoughts to myself until I felt that I had a working grasp of his observations. Here’s what I discovered.
To reach a place of integration, an artist, needs to begin at a place of stability. From that stability an artist can move on towards the expansion of his knowledge and consciousness through discovery.
There were a few exercises that I followed. Each one interestingly set to address the state of the psyche of the artist.
One exercise is the division of the circle into 4 equal sections, each colored in a different hue. This mandala serves as an example of a stable composition. The second form is that of a circle divided into three equal sections each painted in a different color. In this arrangement, the mandala moves away from stability towards a sense of expansion. The last exercise is one in which the artist creates an asymmetrical division of the circle and tries to bring these fragmented pieces towards an arrangement of stability.
From this exercise, an artist can discover whether they are feeling afraid of becoming stagnant through too much stability, or whether they are anxious over the lack of stability present in the mandalas, in which case too much expansion is emphasized at the expense of stability and this leads towards fragmentation.
Here are a few examples from my artworks:
It’s clear to me that I enjoy doing all these forms of exercises – from stability towards expansion. I aim at creating a sense of harmony and balance from symmetrical and asymmetrical arrangements of geometric forms in my artworks. I am experiencing the full spectrum of unfolding from stability towards expansion and even nearing fragmentation to move back towards a practice of unifying these geometric elements in my artwork.
I was happy to see that his reflections delved particularly on geometric art itself. This is a perspective that has intuitively come to me on the nature of the work of geometric art through years of practice with the Wheel within a Wheel series.
“The precision required to do geometrical work is in itself stabilizing. Some people may not like geometry because its components or aspects are fixed. But geometry represents the precise basic laws upon which the creative flow of the universe is set. Once you know the components, those fixed aspects will come alive. Your interpretation, the details you choose to fill in, will reveal whether your mandala is a living representation of the underlying stability of the universe…What is Art? Art comes from life, from the unfolding universal happening of form. There is no artistic genius or art that does not come from form, the underlying stable body of manifestation.”
From this all-encompassing perspective drawn from the flow of the universe and its laws, a challenge is present for the artist – their expression of these discoveries as they unfold. “Artistically you have to make or meet the requirements of the universe which speak of myriad pattern.”
What does this mean, exactly? Here’s my perspective on Namgyal Rinpoche’s work. To express a form, the artist must know the form and come to a place of mastery and union with this form. And, the author presents two ways that artists arrive at this union and unfolding through art-making.
One way is seen in Mondrian’s paintings. These artworks are “statements of exploration of on-going exercises from the mysteries which brought him in touch with depth symbolism.” He reaches this place of union through “an orderly progression of conscious unfoldment.”
Van Gogh and Dali are two examples of artists that “experienced a spontaneous arising of the unitive, an unfoldment that was a healing coming through from their depth to a conscious level.” Their exercises are intuitive and come from within – a knowing of the heart.
Through these exercises, the artist also progresses from an initial statement of their existence: “I am here, I have made my mark” – towards that of mastery and a declaration of “I am here. I am able to make an impact on my environment.”
Mastery is a result of experiencing an intimate knowledge of the manifested forms, and these can be expressed from the heart, as the patterns of the universe. These universal patterns are inherently contained within these forms.
From this knowledge and union with the patterns of the universe, experienced by an artist through intuitive discoveries and conscious exercises revealed as artworks – as “statements of exploration,” the artist can move from his own private inner experience towards a social context and communication with others.
The expression of these discoveries is, in the author’s words, the statement of a Bodhisattva. And as artists, there’s an experience of creative discovery when making art. “In every attempt to know, there’s a bit of knowing, and knowing is beautiful. Everybody recognizes a masterpiece because the beauty is communicated, it immediately draws the viewer into knowing.” Art itself is then, a form of shared unity, knowledge and conscious unfolding within a process of communication in a social context.
For artists, I think Nambyal Rinpoche’s meditation is empowering, affirming and inspirational – we are inherently through our artworks sharing in the unfolding of a integrated consciousness as a union with the universal laws of life. In my perspective, it is an intuitive knowledge of the heart and developed through creative practice and experiences of discovery.