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Dissertation Title:

The Jeweled Net, Sacred Landscape, and the Vision of the Heart


Laura Delano Marshall

Date, Time & Place:

July 28, 2015 at 6:30 pm
Barrett Center, Ladera Lane Campus


For centuries Western sensibilities have been governed by an assumption that imagination is an exclusively human faculty, independent of the phenomenal world. This dissertation explores a view, long elaborated in mythologies and artistic traditions of
pre-modern cultures, that phenomenal reality is the template of imagination, that
terrestrial and celestial elemental forces are continuous with the mind, and that meaning in artistic practice is derived from a reciprocal exchange with the world in which we live.
This dissertation revives a traditional view of the heart as the seat of a continuous circulation of mind, imagination, and the world. In endeavoring to recover the eclipsed intelligence of the heart, this study argues that both the thought and perception of the heart are primarily metaphorical, which necessarily makes them essential in humanity’s unceasing exchange with the greater community of beings.
This dissertation demonstrates that imagination and artistic practice are inseparable from the environment, and that a study of pre-modern artistic traditions broadens an ecological understanding of the web of relationships between living beings and the environment that sustains them. Three traditions of painting disclose varying human orientations within the world: Navajo sandpainting, Chinese landscape painting, and Western European painting since the fourteenth century. Navajo sandpaintings are made at times when disorder and sickness prevail in order to restore balance in the relationship between the human community and primordial forces embodied in the landscape. Chinese landscape painting is a visual contemplation of the interwoven place of humanity within the perpetual change and transformation of heaven, earth, and sentient beings. Western painters in the fourteenth century departed from pre-modern approaches to painting when linear perspective was introduced as a way to fix a perception of the phenomenal world that was primarily optical, rather than visionary. The perception promoted by this method, based on an orientation that is both dualistic and literal, eventually ran its course, giving way to the introduction of more interactive approaches to artistic practice and perception by twenty-first century artists.

  • Program/Track/Year: Mythological Studies, Track E, 2007
  • Chair: Dr. Patrick Mahaffey
  • Reader: Dr. Dana White
  • External Reader: Dr. Tom Cheetham
  • Keywords: Mandala, Indra’s Net, Heart, Sacred Landscape, Ecology, Navajo Sandpainting, Chinese Landscape Painting, Linear Perspective, James Hillman