Logo, Taos School of Art

Emil Bisttram, Logo, Taos School of Art, 1932

Emil Bisttram, Logo, Taos School of Art, 1932

Emil Bisttram, Duality 8, n.d., oil on canvas,44-1/4 x 33", Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York

Emil Bisttram, Duality 8, n.d., oil on canvas,44-1/4 x 33", Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York

Max Heindel, The 1.3.7 & 10 Aspects of God & Man, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception (1909), Diagram 11

Max Heindel, The 1.3.7 & 10 Aspects of God & Man, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception (1909), Diagram 1


From the beginning, teaching was a fundamental aspect of Bisttram’s artistic career. Working under his mentor Howard Giles at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, Bisttram progressed from student, to teaching assistant, to teacher.

The statement that Bisttram prepared for Dane Rudhyar’s unpublished manuscript, The Transcendental Movement in Painting (1938), which provided the theoretical framework for the founding of the Transcendental Painting Group, shows how much his self image as artist-initiate was tied in with that of the teacher:

His [Bisttram’s] philosophy of life has developed along occult or broadly theosophical lines, and his attitude is largely that of the “teacher.” By this is meant that, for him, art should be a means to transmit truths and basic principles of cosmic proportion and evolution. He considers art as the Egyptian or Hindu artist-initiate did, as fulfilling a sacramental function, an ethical-philosophical task of symbolization. Art reveals philosophy through forms and colors that are symbols – not merely individual and temporary significant symbols, but universally valid representations of eternal truths.

It would be expected then that Bisttram’s logo for his Taos School would have some occult meaning. The logo is an equilateral triangle inscribed within a square, inscribed within a circle.

Using Blavatsky’s ideas as a key, the logo represents God as the macrocosm or man as the microcosm. Blavatsky describes a man ashaving 7 bodies, 4 comprising the lower self represented by the square, and 3 comprising the higher self represented by the triangle. Bisttram’s logo would then depict divinity since the triangle and square are embedded in the circle, which is Blavatsky’s general symbol for the Creator.

It is worth noting that the concept of man being represented as a square is fundamental to the occult as well as to dynamic symmetry. Claude Bragdon wrote an essay titled Man the Square, which is a chapter in his book Primer of Higher Space (1939). Likewise, in dynamic symmetry all rectangles are constructed from the square, and conversely, space is analyzed by inscribing squares, or, in other words, by making a grid.

The painting Duality 8 shows Bisttram’s logo twice, first as the heart of the upper figure, and second in the heart of the lower figure. The symbols in the upper and lower figures are slightly different, with the symbol in the upper figure most like Bisttram’s logo, with a circle enclosing a square, enclosing a triangle. The symbol in the lower figure is a square enclosing a circle, enclosing a triangle. Since the symbol in the upper figure is enclosed in a circle, it most likely represents the higher self, with the lower figure representing the lower self.

This interpretation is reinforced by the symbolism of the vertical planes that make up the upper figure which contrast with the horizontal planes that make up the lower figure, with vertical representing ascent to heaven and evolution, and horizontal representing the earth plane. The horizontal and vertical planes can also be read as doors opening and closing into different dimensions, an interpretation Bisttram gave in reference to another picture with similar forms.

For Blavatsky, duality represents the dual forces of nature that are always in opposing relationship to each other, as polarities of force, such as centripetal and centrifugal, involution and evolution, male and female, positive and negative, spirit and matter, attraction and repulsion, electricity and magnetism, invisible and visible, subject and object. These circulating forces, moving in a cyclic, spiraling interaction produce form on the downward evolutionary curve into manifestation, and reabsorb it on the returning upward evolutionary ascending curve.

Since the upper figure is made up of straight lines and vertical planes, and the lower figure is made up of curved lines and horizontal lines, the duality expressed might be male and female.

The analogy can be taken one step further by seeing the equilateral triangle of the upper figure about to unite with the equilateral triangle of the lower figure. Blavatsky interprets the six-pointed star, the star of David, made up of two interlocking equilateral triangles, as symbolizing the interaction of the dual forces operating in the universal ether. The two triangles represent the creative powers informing the invisible as well as the visible universe that, after numerous interactions, produce change and transformation within the system.

For comparison, Max Heindel’s symbol is interesting because it is similar to Bisttram’s logo, and because he too based his ideas on Blavatsky. Heindel provides the following explanation for his symbol:

We see here a white triangle looming up from a dark background. White is synthetic, containing all colors within itself, as God contains within Himself all things in the Solar System.

Within the white triangle are a blue, a red and a yellow circle. All other circles are simply combinations of these three primary colors. These circles correspond to the three aspects of God, which are without beginning, and end in God, though externalized only during active manifestation. When these three colors are interblended, as shown in the diagram, there appear four additional colors, the three secondary colors – each due to the blending of two primary colors – and one color (indigo) which contains the entire gamut of colors, making in all the seven colors of the spectrum. These colors represent the Seven spirits before the throne. The colors are different, as are also the Seven Spirits, each having a different mission in the Kingdom of God – our Solar System. (Max Heindel, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception or Mystic Christianity: An Elementary Treatise upon Man’s past evolution, present constitution and future developments (1909), 8th ed., Oceanside, CA: Rosicrucian Fellowship, 1922, pp. 253-255)

The title of Heindel’s diagram is The 1.3.7 & 10 Aspects of God & Man. The shapes of the geometrical figures should be therefore considered in terms of the number symbolism of each element of the diagram – the 3 circles plus the triangle, plus the square, equals 10 which for Blavatsky is a perfect number.