Every type of art connects us to chords of feeling that are understood in a primal way through the shared experience of keeping balance as a human being. This automatic balancing act of vision is ongoing. Science tells us that 90% of our sense of balance is visual and when I ask my class to stand on one leg with their eyes closed I see how true that is. Most begin to wobble within seconds and the few that stay upright initially show a concentrated awareness of position I associate with dancers and meditators, people who do yoga. And even then, without sight, they’ll eventually begin to sway. We depend on what we see. It’s instantaneous, an adjustment of the body to surroundings. What we feel is that adjustment registering in conscious awareness. When something feels wrong with the scene in front of us it’s the eyes that find what is out of balance, whatever doesn’t belong or is absent. We feel it before we find it, directed by what vision senses.
It was the philosopher Gurdieff that once said, “Feeling is the foundation of common sense”. The overall sense of things is represented by a complex interplay of feeling that can be very precise yet verbally unnameable. Art develops responsiveness to the overall feeling so we can better recognize the important patterns. A composition is always a state of balance showing whatever is relevant to us about that feeling. It presents a set of relationships that we understand as though confronted with them in reality, but the artist pares it down to what really matters. Looking at art develops that capacity to see what counts. Because it depends on the overall sense of “what fits” as Nobel winner David Bohm puts it, “All of our concepts and explanations… have at their core the perception of a totality of ratios or proportions.” In his book “On Creativity” he writes, “The role of art…is not to provide symbolism but rather to teach the artistic spirit of sensitive perception of the individual’s particular phenomena…” It can be a spur to psychological insight and philosophical modeling.
The philosophical expression of overarching connectedness has been a subject for spiritual vision expressed independently in different religions yet sharing a basic structure
Though the Above/Below structure of most western religious imagery is most familiar Mandalas have expressed unity of the whole, nested structures as the underlying patterns of the universe. In a center based form there is no window, no single point of view . All is within the cosmic whole.
As a Christian saint, Hildegard of Bingen’s cosmology showed with painting the whole of creation as divine, expressed as harmony and balance. She used circles to show a reality that is all inclusive. Her image of us as a body within a soul and not the other way around transcends the separateness that’s seeped into religious attitudes of all types. She used images to illuminate a larger view of the cosmos, a visual philosopher.
She shows the dimensions of reality as nested, one type of energy enclosed within the next, like the layers of an onion, all enclosed in the arms of god, an archetypal image re-envisioned not as above but around, something we’re are enclosed within, a visual idea that can radically change the way we see ourselves in reality. It’s how the human body is organized, layer upon layers with subgroups of layers. It makes sense that we would be enfolded in layers beyond the power of our perception.