Sunday, September 9, 2018

Radial Balance

Our unit on Visual Balance in Art has continued as my students learned about radial balance by creating mandalas.

Radial balance is similar to symmetrical balance in that if you fold the composition in half, it will be the same on both sides. The difference is that you could fold it vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, and it will always be about the same. A daisy or a bicycle wheel are great examples of radial balance. So are mandalas (Sandskrit for circles), which represent a wholeness such as the universe.

I shared a video of Buddhist monks creating mandalas to my students. It is a tedious, time and labor intensive task to create a beautiful mandala from colored sand, only to have it brushed away.  Why did they make it?  Before even watching a video, I ask my students why anyone makes art. Student answers included that it is fun, or because artists want to make money or become famous. Some talked about self expression or leaving something behind for posterity. But none of these answers apply when it comes to Buddhist monks making sand mandalas. These monks believe that the act of making the mandala actually changes them. They are inviting various Buddhas to come and exist within the mandala during the days of its creation, and that by the meditative process of creating that those involved will gain greater compassion for example. They are learning precision and gaining stamina. After it is completed, the sand is brushed away, teaching the impermanence of things and the importance of appreciating life in the moment.

Certainly, art has changed me. Art requires patience and the courage to take risks. The qualities acquired through art making can spill into other areas of life.

To make their mandalas, my students took pieces of card stock, made a square, and folded it diagonally, in both directions to make an X, and then folded it horizontally and vertically, so that there were four folds intersecting at the center to make 8 divisions. They used a compass and scissors to make a circle, and then a piece of pie shaped paper to fit into an 8th of their circle. They drew a pattern which was then traced on a light table on window, flipping the image each time. In other words, every other pie shape had the image facing right, and the remaining spaces had the image facing left. For those who were blind, I traced the template they drew, for them, first in Sharpie and then in hot glue. They were responsible for coloring the tactile shapes with colored pencil or marker.

Finally, some of the shapes were filled in with glue and sprinkled with color sand, not only to reference the Buddhist sand mandalas, but to create a more interesting tactile effect. When I heard complaints about the physical discomfort from leaning over a light table, or the frustration of having to start over when huge mistakes were made, I would remind them of the days or weeks of back breaking work for the monks to make theirs. Everything worthwhile requires sacrifice of one sort or another. And once the projects were completed, all of the reasons for complaining had been forgotten, for the joy of having made something come into existence that wasn't there before.

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