A Natural Order - Our Director Speaks with Autumn Salon Magazine
"We understand the traditional arts to be manifestations of this natural order, which is in a state of continual renewal, always bringing forth new and interesting forms into the world, because it is alive."
Can you speak a little about the underlying philosophy of your school?
We are called the School of Traditional Arts, and the word 'tradition' is in fact very important for us.
Tradition can be thought of in different ways, perhaps the most common being the historical customs or mannerisms of various cultures from the past. Yet if we inquire more deeply into the meaning of tradition, following it all the way back to its source, we come to what the Buddhists would call 'the right way of living', or the natural order of things.
This order may appear to us through a particular pattern or encounter in our daily lives ...a flower, a piece of music... a glimpse of something that awakens a sense of harmony or beauty within us. It's very difficult to define precisely what this experience of beauty is, but it seems to act as a gateway; a moment that catches our attention, and opens us to the greater reality of who and what we are.
We understand the traditional arts to be manifestations of this natural order, which is in a state of continual renewal, always bringing forth new and interesting forms into the world, because it is alive.
We help our students develop a sense of this order through exploring the geometric symmetries and patterns found within nature: how the stars move, the cycles of the seasons, what makes the flowers grow, our DNA structures...
As they discover there are common principles that create order in the natural world, they realize they too are part of this order; that everything we experience and do in our day to day lives comes from these deeper structures and patterns, and although we're not normally conscious of them, they make everything around us work in harmony.
How does this approach to education differ from what one might be taught at most contemporary art or design schools today?
Today in many art colleges there's a lot of pressure for students to be original—you have to be clever, you have to be different and unique... and some people thrive on this, and some people do not. In my own experience I did not, as I felt I wasn't there to be told to be original but to acquire knowledge, and the teachers were there to teach me this knowledge. Why else would I be there, if I already knew what I was doing?
So at our school we’ve come to redefine the idea of what it means to be original, and realize we are in fact doing original work because it has an origin. And more than that, it has a common origin.
Meaning that if your work is original, I can trace a path back to its origin, which is my origin too. In this way I'm able to relate to your work not just on the surface but on a deeper, more universal level, and this creates a resonance that links us to one another, to nature, and to the greater tradition of humanity.
Understanding this connects us to a sense of the timeless; it develops our sensitivity to the processes of time and space and unity, and therefore everything we do and everything we think about can begin to become an expression of this consciousness. We strongly encourage our students to contemplate and reflect on all of this.
Then when I walk into a Gothic cathedral or a Buddhist temple, I understand what these people did. I feel something that resonates, that brings me into contact with this higher level of order, which is the inspirational or spiritual dimension from out of which all these things come.
At the same time we are also not just talking about philosophy, or simply having discussions. This can be good to open things up, but then we need to get up and do some geometry to actually see how unity manifests itself, how all of these different shapes emerge from this unity, and then return to it.