Among two of the most important foundational principles of Simple Reality, simplicity is very concrete and beauty is very abstract. Simplicity supports awareness because it reduces the myriad distractions that can take us out of the present moment. One of the chief strategies of the false self is to keep us busy and in a state of reaction while meeting the needs of the false-self survival strategy. Complexity is often used to describe P-B and one of the behavioral characteristics common to the false self is multi-tasking.
The evolution of Piet Mondrian’s painting style and his vision was one of increasing simplification. For example, he simplified the colors he used eventually relying on only red, yellow, blue, white and black and the form eventually using only the Platonic square and rectangle. He seemed to be pursuing Simple Reality in his art. “All his paintings are, on some level, about the disentangling of essence from attributes; the enunciation of what is central, and what peripheral, in his (and thus the viewer’s) experience of reality.”[i]
Beauty can only be completely experienced in the NOW and in the “heart” and is therefore a P-A experience. Interfacing with beauty, then, is one of the chief activities to practice in being present or to stay in response to reality. Being subjective, the experience of beauty is also a time when we can practice self-reliance. We decide for ourselves what is beautiful for us and what resonates “within.” Our response to beauty is therefore a “feeling” and always a valid experience of the present moment.
Mondrian lived when many artists believed that human behavior could be positively altered by the beauty of art. “He was one of the last great painters to believe that his paintings could change the objective conditions of human life. He saw art not as an end but as a means to an end—spiritual clarification.”[ii]
The experience of suffering is a reaction to illusion, so Mondrian was in effect, through his art, trying to empower humanity to transcend suffering. He converted to Theosophy in 1909 and adopted the Theosophical belief that “matter was the enemy of spiritual enlightenment.”[iii] We can recognize this belief as at least a partial intuitive insight into the undesirable identification with form.
Trying to escape the nightmare of one European war and the beginning of another, Mondrian fled to New York in 1940. Here, although he seems to have experienced genuine liberation, he also falls prey to his false self and the dazzling sensations of the Big Apple. “‘Fortunately,’ he said, ‘we can enjoy modern construction, marvels of science as well as modern art. We can enjoy real jazz and its dance; we see the electric lights of luxury and utility; the window displays. Then we feel the great difference between modern times and the past.’”[iv]
However, it is in New York that his paintings seem to achieve their goal of liberating him from the illusion of the body and form if not his mind and emotions. Robert Hughes was an ardent admirer. “The paintings are incorruptible. They are the real rudiments of Paradise, the building blocks of a system that has no relationship at all to our bodies, except through the ocular perception of color.”[v]
Plato addressed the eternal truth of beauty when he said that shapes “are not as most people would suppose, the beauty of living figures or of pictures; but straight lines and circles, and shapes, plane or solid, made from them by lathe, ruler and square. These are not, like other things, beautiful relatively, but always and absolutely.”[vi] Piet Mondrian’s art demonstrates, at least for many of us, that he was inspired by the energy of the present moment when he painted the “beauty of shapes.”
[i] Hughes, Robert. The Shock of the New. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1981, page 202.
[iv] Ibid., page 203.
[v] Ibid., page 207.
[vi] Newmeyer, Sarah. Enjoying Modern Art. New York: NAL. 1955, page 221.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.