Interviewsand Articles

 

From the Editor w&c #38 - A Geometry of the Heart

by R. Whittaker, Jul 3, 2020


 

 







Marney Babcock, study, 2017, compass, pencil and ink



If there’s an intelligence of the heart then its foundation must rest in our fundamental relatedness, both to others and to the place we call mother earth. And there’s the relationship with oneself. What do I understand about that? All are deeply entwined—a kind of trinity. Our theme, a geometry of the heart, was inspired by our conversation with artist Pat Benincasa, who speaks so powerfully from the heart, and on behalf of the heart. But it’s equally appropriate for our conversation with artist Rosalyn White, although from quite a different perspective. Her practice of painting traditional Tibetan thankas goes back decades. She shares some of her experience and insight from working in an art form grounded in long centuries of spiritual practice.
     Linking geometry with the heart might seem odd. One wouldn’t expect it to be paired with the essential place of feeling. But it calls up a phrase Vladimir Nabokov is said to have included in his lectures at university each semester—“the passion of the scientist and the precision of the artist.” Usually one student in each class would be brave enough to ask if he hadn’t misspoken. He hadn’t. Pairing passion with science and precision with art is an unexpected inversion. Could it be that both are necessary in each realm?
     Nabokov may have been thinking of precise expression as a writer, but there’s another way of seeing precision—as being in relationship just so with what is. But how often does one find the required equanimity and awareness in the midst of day-to-day living?
     The question takes us back to our conversation with Rosalyn White. She shares a line from the Heart Sutra: “Form is emptiness, emptiness itself is form; emptiness is no other than form, form is no other than emptiness.” It’s a mysterious formulation. But does awareness have form? It brings us back to Tibetan thangkas; their symbols and arrangement represent inner possibilities—as, for instance, finding a relationship with one’s experience unclouded by inner reactions. They carry knowledge from centuries of spiritual tradition and must be painted according to very specific guidelines. It’s not a relationship we associate with art in the contemporary West. On the other hand, it’s interesting to look back into the historic past. Rue Harrison’s short essay on geometry touches on this related area. In early Egypt, India and Greece (and some other cultures) the knowledge of geometry must have been regarded as a window into the sacred. That same knowledge was used in the design and layout for Europe’s medieval cathedrals. One only need step into a Gothic cathedral to know that feeling and geometry have an intrinsic relationship. Have we lost contact with this today?      
     Making art that can reach the heart without sentimentality is the most difficult challenge. Gertrude Stein remarked on the problem (as quoted in our first issue): “Now listen! Can’t you see that when the language was new—as it was with Chaucer and Homer—the poet could use the name of a thing and the thing was really there? He could say, ‘O Moon,’ ‘O Sea,’ ‘O Love,’ and the moon and the sea and love were really there. And can’t you see that after hundreds of years had gone by and thousands of poems had been written he could call on those words and find that they were just worn out literary words? The excitingness of pure being had withdrawn from them. Now the poet has to work in the excitingness of pure being.” (Four in America, Yale Univ. Press, 1947)
     So what would that be like? It would be a measure of things we only recognize through experience. Leslie Curchack’s account of a road trip she took to mark her 75th birthday and explore life beyond her self-imposed limitations is an example. And the extraordinary story Nepalese artist Milan Rai shares with us in “To Follow a Butterfly” could hardly be a more powerful account of the struggle and rewards of finding one’s way into this precious territory. Then, as if to underline it all in one magical stroke, we have Ron Hobbs' Wells of Living Waters.
     Indigo Animal’s adventures in the pure exciting-ness of being continue, and we welcome Pavithra Mehta, who has a strong presence in this issue, as a contributing editor.  
     Each feature contributes its own tone in what we hope sounds together as a harmonious chord.
     Welcome to issue #38.

     
 

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.   

 

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