Mondrian Against Science

The occult is alive and well in Liverpool, where the Tate reconstructs three studios of the Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer thought that science and mathematics were unable to penetrate the “inner nature” of the thing itself, independent of any external causal relationships with other “things”. Some of Mondrian’s pictures try to investigate his ideas.

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The artist designed these rooms meticulously, setting out his few possessions in a slowly thought-out order. Mondrian’s abstract pictures were also painted very slowly and carefully, using colours that he mixed himself with hand-drawn straight lines. He wanted to reject scientific formulae and models, and invent his own solutions to chaos, not only in his pictures, but in his studios and life.

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The style and process was based on the writing of Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) the Russian who founded theosophy, and set out mysteriously in a 1909 book The Secret Doctrine. That argued for a universal brotherhood of humanity, which would evolve as a higher state of being, familiar ideas made fashionable by Neitzsche and Bergson.

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Blavatsky had thought of sets of interacting forces, horizontal female ones and vertical male ones, all enclosed in a circle, and needing time, care and hard work to be productive and to activate spirits. Maybe that’s why Mondrian painted so many leafless trees:

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