It is interesting to look at how the tree transforms through certain stages of Piet Mondrian’s development and discovery as an artist, writer and thinker. Along with the physical changes in Mondrian’s (originally spelled Mondriaan) works, were the changing influences of the times; that including a variety of places, historical events and relationships with a particular community of artists. Even those who are not connoisseurs, without the theories behind the evolution, will see the tree evolve.
The tree’s structure and its upward thrust determines a natural interception of strong vertical with horizontals lines. Interestingly enough, on page 106 of Jaffe’s Mondrian, Mondrian goes so far as to explain a male and female symbolism inherent in his exploration of the tree’s structure.
“Since the male principle is represented by the vertical line, a man will recognize this element in the upright trees of the forest. He will see the complement to this in the horizontal line of the sea. A woman will recognize herself in the horizontal line of the sea and her complement in the vertical lines of the forest, the latter representin the masculine element. Thus, each sex is affected in its own way.”
Hmmm…interesting. It’s actually fascinating to go into the writings of these artists and to see what ideas helped formulate their take on the visual world! And in looking for images that I could use, I came upon this link to Blurred Habitation.
In the end, Mondrian’s observations of the ‘spiritual’ aspects of the ‘universal’ tree symbol ended up playing a vital role in the progression of Modern Art. It was through a period of years that Piet Mondrian completed a wide range of tree studies and over time, the axes, the intersections of these dominant horizontal and vertical lines became most apparent. The tree ‘in nature’ seemed to disappear and became a universal symbol instead. The medieval German mystic, Meister Eckart aptly stated, “To find nature herself, all her likenesses have to be shattered; and the furthur in the nearer the actual thing.” This quote taken from Roger Cook’s The Tree of Life: Symbol of the Centre.
In Mondrian’s words, found on page 429 of Art of our Century: The Chrionicle of Western Art : 1900 to the Present, “In order to approach the spiritual in art, we will make as little use as possible of reality, because reality is opposed to the spiritual. Here, there is a logical explanation for elementary forms. As these forms are abstract, we find ourselves in the presence of an abstract art.
Like religion, Art is superhuman and cultivates the superhuman element in man, and it is consequently a means of human evolution.
Neither life nor art can be brought into being if we consider the spirit alone. Or matter alone. The unity of the two makes creation.
The universal can be expressed in pure manner only when the particular does not obstruct our path. Only then can universal consciousness (in other words, intuition), which is at the origin of all art, be rendered directly, giving birth to a purified artistic expression.”
I believe Divinity, Divine Love, God-Present to be the intuition that Mondrian speaks of and that I, the artist become instrument to that intuition.