“On the Paintings of Frithjof Schuon”
Adapted from Michael Pollack’s “Introduction” to Images of Primordial and Mystic Beauty (Abodes, 1992)
Frithjof Schuon is not a painter who is interested in metaphysics; he is a metaphysician who from time to time produces a painting. This distinction is essential because his fundamental vocation is the perennial wisdom as it is expressed in his written works, whereas his art appears rather as an expression of the aesthetic, psychological or moral dimension of the Philosophia Perennis. In other words, Schuon is interested not only in metaphysical principles, but also—by way of consequence—in their cosmic and human radiation; which means, not that he sets out to represent a particular archetype or to utilize a specific symbolism in a painting—which in fact he does not—but simply that his spiritual insight, or let us say his contemplative mind, spontaneously manifests itself in his artistic productions.
The main subjects of Schuon's art are, on the one hand, the Plains Indian world, and on the other hand the mystery of cosmic and human femininity; Goethe's "Eternal Feminine" (das Ewig-Weibliche) or the Hindu Shakti. His choice of this first subject has its roots in his affinity with the fascinating world of Red Indian heroism and mysticism; the choice of the second subject of his art—sacred femininity—has its roots in metaphysics and cosmology; one could also say, in a more relative sense, in Schuon's affinity with Hinduism.
It is essential to understand that Schuon is never interested in originality and innovation; he is fascinated by the subject matter alone, its origin being what he observed among the Indians or an inner vision of spiritual realities. As for style, Schuon applies the general rules of traditional pictorial art, the first principle being that a painting must take into account the flatness and immobility of the surface; it should not represent three-dimensional space nor a too accidental and hence fragmentary movement. Schuon likes to repeat his subjects, a tendency that derives from his interest or fascination with them; it would be missing the point to reproach the painter for this kind of "monotony," since it is a characteristic of all traditional art to repeat certain central motifs—it does this in order to unfold their full potentialities.
In this collection [i.e. Images of Primordial and Mystic Beauty] are images of the White Buffalo Cow Woman who brought the Sacred Pipe to the Lakota Indians; we may add that the headdresses she wears in some of Schuon's paintings, or other details, have a symbolic import and do not mean that the heavenly person actually appeared in that way.
When the question was broached of publishing a comprehensive collection of Schuon's paintings, he at first was rather reluctant because he was concerned that such a publication might detract from the image of his intellectual and spiritual identity; for, let us repeat, the main accent of his message is spiritual and not artistic. However, because Schuon's art also contains in its way a spiritual message—since his doctrinal message finds a spiritually transparent expression in his art—he granted permission. The result was the 1993 publication of Images of Primordial and Mystic Beauty.
Let us repeat that the fundamental meaning of Schuon's artistic message is the presence of the sacred in every beauty. As Schuon writes: "What I seek to express in my paintings—and indeed I cannot express anything other—is the Sacred combined with Beauty. Thus, spiritual attitudes and virtues of soul. And the vibration that emanates from the paintings must lead inward." As Plato taught: