TAOS SCHOOL OF ART LOGO
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The statement that Bisttram prepared for Dane Rudhyar’s unpublished manuscript, The Transcendental Movement in Painting (1938), which provided the theoretical framework for the founding of the Transcendental Painting Group,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:
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:
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.