By Joan Skolimowski
How the Art of Mandala Found Me
It was a happenchance meeting with Phoebe Williams, an artist in Brisbane, Australia, in 1997. In sharing our love for art — I’m a sculptor, and she’s a painter — she described a course she was teaching on the Art of Mandala. She suddenly became quiet, looked at me in a knowing way, and declared: “You are going to teach mandalas, and I will give you all the help to do that.” And she did!
While living in Greece, Poland, and India, I spent the next two years further studying the many meanings and approaches to creating a mandala. I also researched the writings of Carl Jung. He created mandalas to facilitate his own personal growth and awareness, as well as to help in his work with patients. Only then did I begin to teach this course on the Art of Mandala, and I’ve now taught it in Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Greece, Poland, India, and the United States.
Each culture had its own distinct articulation of the mandala based on its unique mythology and view of the Cosmos. Thus it was a very different cultural experience to teach in each country. The joy for me in sharing the mandala process was seeing the creativity emerge through students’ mandalas. Students’ eyes lit up seeing a new expression of art come from within. On a deeper level, many found insight into a deeper part of themselves and a reverence for the Art of Mandala.
What Is the Meaning and History of the Mandala?
The word ‘mandala’ is familiar to many people, and yet it may not be well understood. It has had many purposes, and for each purpose it has its own form and meaning — for meditation, artistic expression, or connecting with the inner self.
Mandalas have been used in various ways by ancient and native peoples in many parts of the world, representing sacred wholeness or significance. Prehistoric humans, going back many millennia, represented the circle as a symbol, within which resided a potent spiritual meaning to the individuals and community.
The Sanskrit word ‘mandala’ means a sacred circle or circular diagram. It was used for shamanistic rites so that tribes/communities could connect with a holistic sense of the divine with all of the Cosmos.
Creating mandalas is still practiced around the world today in some native cultures. The Navajo continues to make the sand mandala with its symbols of life and fertile land. The Indian pilgrim meditates on the Yantra, a geometric triangular design within the circle, for awakening, or he circumambulates the sculpted mandala in representation of the Cosmos. The Tibetan monk meditates on the sacred circle of the Thangka for insight and awakening.
Mandalas in Western Culture
It was the English anthropologists and linguists that explored the Indian and Tibetan cultures in the 18th and 19th century. By learning ancient Sanskrit and Tibetan, they could begin to delve more deeply into the spiritual cultures and their symbols. The mandala form came to Europe in collections of the Asian spiritual cultures.
In the 1920s, Carl Jung traveled to India. It was here that he discovered the mandala. It made a deep impression, and he returned to his home and used the mandala for both creative expression and deeper self-awareness. Carl Jung said: “Mandalas symbolize a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness.” After coming to understand the process in his own work, he began to guide his patients in using the mandala for deeper insight and expression.
He shared his experience in working with mandalas with his followers, who continued the process for themselves and for their patients. The symbols and the expressions that came through were astounding, spiritual, and healing. About 60 years ago, one Jungian began to use this process as an art form, calling it the Art of Mandala, in which it was used for creative expression with awareness. To this day there are practitioners sharing this form of mandala art with students.
The Art of Mandala I Teach
The purpose of the class I teach is to affirm and nurture the creativity that resides in each of us. My goal is to help students realize the connection between what is in the heart and what comes through the hand as artistic expression. The mandala we create communicates from a deeper place within us, bringing awareness. This helps us to appreciate our intrinsic gift of creativity. Insight is here within for the taking. Beauty is within each of us. We each have inspiration and creativity residing within and accessible to each of us.
The process of mandala making is beneficial to both the practiced artist and the first time participant. The course begins with a guided meditation to help the participant relax and be peaceful and receptive to one’s inner intuition. When we look within and connect with this deeper place, a kind of dialogue unfolds in colors, patterns, or even energies. After the meditation, the participants create their own mandala. In expressing the Art of Mandala, we try to represent on paper, with a vast array of colors to choose from, what we have seen and experienced in the mind’s eye. It is not a thinking approach but rather an intuitive/feeling approach to artistic expression. When creating a mandala for the first time, using oil pastels lends a freedom of expression and intensity of color to recreate that inner vision of the mandala on paper. Oil pastels, colored pencils, and even water colors are available.
This is a fluid and deep form of artistic expression. It is a re-energizing and inspiring form, where one begins to perceive a new, sometimes previously unknown, integral creativity. Coming to trust the process and expression enhances not only one’s art but one’s life as well.
Joan Skolimowski studied Spanish and psychology and has an M.A. in Early Childhood Education. She has also studied sculpture, and has been sculpting for the last 24 years. She has been teaching the Art of Mandala over the last 15 years in Europe, India, and the U.S. She has been offering this course at VEO Art Studio for the past two years. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VEO Art Studio, located in downtown Chelsea, offers art classes in a wide range of topics for the beginner to the advanced student. For more information, visit www.veoartstudio.com.