The aesthetics of iMandalArt

Last September, I wrote a post about productivity apps and the impending appearance of the iPad version of iMandalArt. In November, I added a brief update with a link to the MandalArt Website with videos — three of them now in English — that show the app in action. Here is the one that I have subsequently found most helpful:

Less than a week after my update, iMandalArt HD was released, and I have now been living with it for a bit more than two months. I say “living with,” rather than “using,” advisedly. As I wrote in the original post:

Its basic structure is a three-by-three grid, expandable around the central cell, and then around each peripheral cell, and then around each of those, and so on. Metaphorically, it is a bit like zooming in on a fractal tic tac toe grid, but one filled with successively-narrowed ideas and words, instead of Xs and Os, and not at all game-like. To an accomplished user, this probably sounds naive at best, since I am sure I don’t yet get it.

Indeed, until a week ago, I still didn’t get it, though I had been creating folders, making entries in various cells, and trying to understand the program’s functionality more intuitively. Despite having seen the value of the fractal tic tac toe metaphor, I was unwittingly stuck on the second and third words in the quote (above): “basic structure.” I was thinking about iMandalArt (± HD) as a tool for organizing or structuring tasks or projects. In hindsight, I saw it as just an alternative way of displaying a to-do list. As an elegant variant on Things or Priority Matrix or Action Method, with a down-the-rabbit-hole capability to zoom in on ever finer detail in some implicit third dimension. But that aforementioned intuitive understanding still eluded me.

As often happens, insight came from a seemingly-unrelated direction. As an outgrowth of my appreciation for the art of Japanese gardens, I have been reading lately about the wabi-sabi aesthetic, often portrayed in English as focused on beauty in the impermanent, the imperfect, and the incomplete. That led me to a wonderful little book by Donald RichieA Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics. There in the first three paragraphs of his Preface was the perfect perspective on iMandalArt:

In writing about traditional Asian aesthetics, the conventions of a Western discourse — order, logical progression, symmetry — impose upon the subject an aspect that does not belong to it. Among other ideas, Eastern aesthetics suggests that ordered structure contrives, that logical exposition falsifies, and that linear, consecutive argument eventually limits.

As the aesthetician Itoh Teiji has stated regarding the difficulties that Japanese experience in defining aesthetics: “The dilemma we face is that our grasp is intuitive and perceptual rather than rational and logical.” Aesthetic enjoyment recognizes artistic patterns, but such patterns cannot be too rigid or too circumscribed.

Most likely to succeed in defining Japanese aesthetics is a net of associations composed of listings or jottings, connected intuitively, that fills in a background and renders the subject visible. Hence the Japanese uses for juxtaposition, for assembling, for bricolage.

In hindsight, two things stand out from this. One is that the expandable grid structure of iMandalArt is a brilliant way to achieve the juxtaposition and assembling that Richie describes. It is an intuitive, rather than logical, bricolage — a “quilt” of ideas. The other is that the app is not called iMandalList, but iMandalArt. The key — those last three letters — was staring me in the face all along.

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2 Responses to The aesthetics of iMandalArt

  1. Interesting perspective and I’m inclined to say a correct one. I do think, like the Japanese garden, it does come down to ‘does it work for you’ and perhaps it is easier for the western mind to recognise something as free as a mind map over the rigidity of iMandalArt.

    I will certainly approach iMandalArt with a renewed perspective after I’ve had time to think about it and find somewhere to apply its gestalt.

    As an aside, I do like what’s happened with HD.

  2. Blanchot says:

    Thank you for your post. Pity there is so little online notice and discussion of iMandalArt — at least in the English hemisphere. I LOVE this app (I’m also using the iPad HD version) because it works better for me than any other system I have ever used… And believe me, I’ve tried everything available on the Mac, Newton and IOS platforms over the past 20+ years.

    Have you seen the recently released MandalaChart app on the appstore? It is a much simpler and, in my opinion, less elegant and less useful take on the same principle, known as the ‘Lotus Blossom Technique’. The good news is there is a bit more information online about the philosophy behind such apps and their potential usage.

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