Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

More About Mandalas

Originally posted on December 18, 2012

I was discussing my own use of mandalas with a lady who has a website about this subject, in addition to producing her own very beautiful designs. Her questions evoked some thoughts that I’ll share with those of you who might be interested. I started drawing mandala-like designs—somewhat circular and symmetrical—around 1966. One fun drawing was learning to construct a labyrinth that reflected the one on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral, and which has been used as a model for other constructions (and books) about labyrinths, designs to evoke contemplative reflections. Then, when the fashion of “buttons” was popular around 1973- 1980, I began to fiddle with geometry, small star-figures with designs in them, especially forms that involves 5 – 13 points, sometimes more or less. By the 1990s I was drawing lots of mandalas.

She asked, “In your writings on your website, you’ve described the importance of archetypes. What differences between the traditional Tibetan Mandala and personal mandala in relation with “archetypes”?
     AB: archetypes as described on my website are simply the imaginal expression of the mind’s tendency to perceive and impose meanings on its perceptions and creations. Regarding the mandala, there is an innate tendency to find a center, and to perceive that things tend to relate to each other and the center in terms of layers and opposites, so geometry and circles are part of this. They also offer a satisfying aesthetic sense of wholeness.

She asked about my mandalas. I replied that they are partly doodles, structured by geometry. I make little effort to be perfect, but rather discover that if the pictures end up being somewhat symmetrical—often superimposed on a pattern such as a square, a seven-pointed or nine-pointed star, with little sub-circles around the points. It ends up looking interesting. Later, as I review them, I discover configurations that are amusing and interesting. One can imagine “meanings” for the different configurations, but originally they just came forth through what seemed like random movements of my hand holding the pencil or pen. Often I do a pencil drawing, laying on another layer of detail, and then I pen the main figures and erase the underlying lines. You can see many on my website.

My interviewer wondered if there were any connections between mandalas and another interest of mine in psychodrama. (I consider psychodrama in its larger sense to be a complex of role-playing-like tools and concepts that can be used to amplify the nature of communications, and applied to enhance the effectiveness of therapy, education, and other forms of applied drama.) I replied that I saw no direct connection, but at a higher level they both involve a measure of improvisation. And in that respect I am also interested in promoting other kinds of spontaneity, such as the activities noted in my Art of Play book.

She asked what are the most common mistakes and prejudices about mandalas, and I replied that the only one I was aware of, reaching a bit, is that it seemed that folks expect them to be precise and symmetrical and mainly in color. I fear my own work pales in comparison with other prettier constructions. On the other hand, my figures are joyously free and have all sorts of little sub-figures in them that are slightly asymmetric. And that also has another kind of aesthetic value. However, most people I meet don’t yet know the word “mandala,” nor have the learned to investigate this genre of art.

My interviewer asked what has inspired me in this regard, and I responded that perhaps Jung’s own work on the subject has been impressive, I also have a fair number of other books more directly about mandalas. Jose Arguelles wrote one in the early 1970s that stimulated my imagination. The other more recent books offer subliminal suggestions, perhaps. Some resonate more than others. The general field of sacred geometry has been a significant source of inspiration.

She asked if I have any future projects related to mandalas. I responded that while it didn’t qualify exactly as a project, I have found that mandala can be a good beginning format for liberating playfulness and spontaneity. It offers enough structure, but within that one or two working together can improvise something that looks okay! I realized that mandalas would be something I’d introduce in art classes with kids, and it could serve as a type of populist art.

I am interested in getting people actively involved in creativity instead of being spectators to someone else’s work: Doing instead of watching. The advance of electronics and mass media has led to a sense that a person can enjoy more the finely developed art of another—which is okay to a point, but we’re well beyond that point. People are becoming hypnotized and dis-empowered and have given up doing their own work. It may be less wondrous than an outside expert, but, hey, it’s their own.

We’re talking about people becoming involved and active rather than passive and living vicariously. We’re talking about personal empowerment in the face of a media-celebrity establishment offering a super-reality experience from the outside. This also relates to my interest in psychodrama not as therapy so much , spontaneity training, action explorations, real people co-creating, in art, in dance, etc.—it need not be all that polished, but it’s authentically alive.
Some people’s mandalas are astonishingly lovely, as were those created by the lady from Italy who was interviewing me. I like the idea of people creating and enjoying the creativity and vitality of discovering as you go. I want everyone to discover and enjoy their own talent, as modest as it may be.

The fellow who invented psychodrama, Jacob L. Moreno, wrote in a poem earlier in his life that more important than the creation is the creator— the you doing the creation, the living person discovering. Much that is created is provisional, amateurish, unfinished, a model, a doodle, an idea that needs to be developed. Sometimes that idea never gets fully developed. Hey, it’s okay! Your personal life and psychological and social process is really more important than any product.

So I guess I’m a bit of a populist. I honor art, but there’s so much of it that most people are getting the sense, “Oh, I could never do that… so why should I try to do anything?”  And so I promote folk singing and song fests, folk dancing and other dancing where more people can discover that even if it’s not “great,” hey, it’s fun, and more, “I” am doing it, not just watching it.

It partakes a bit of Plato’s allegory of the Cave, that sometimes we watch life and begin to think that what we watch IS life. But actively creating instead of watching adds a whole dimension!
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