The circle as first form:
the circle is innately linked to the human experience.

Dissertation, 2020.

This dissertation explores the relationship between circles and the human experience on Earth. Chapter One reviews a variety of site-specific stone circles, Castlerigg, Kilmartin Glen, Ōyu Stone Circle, and Rujm el-Hiri, how their impact is significant to the human experience, astronomy, solar activity, and culture of the period. Chapter Two explores the circle’s occurrence within Buddhism, American Indian history, and education; the circle’s relations to religions, cultures, and societies. Chapter Three looks at artworks from Wassily Kandinksy, Barbara Hepworth, Nancy Holt, ASUNA, and the performance group NVA, exploring how art that associates with the circle draws from meanings that are relevant to human experience on Earth, with each other, and the environment. Chapter Four researches into why the circle is the first shape a child draws. The dissertation uses psychological experiments that identify human attraction to curved lines and shapes (the circle) over harsh lines and shapes (the square), to argue the engrained nature of the circle in human biology. This dissertation concludes that the circle is the most significant shape in the human experience and we would be lost without it. It is important to our way of life, and how we perceive the world around us.

List of Illustrations


Chapter One:
    Circle as first form: Neolithic forms of the circle within environment and society.

Chapter Two:
    The circle as a way of thinking within Buddhism and American Indian history.

Chapter Three:
    Human experience to modern and contemporary art.

Chapter Four:
    The inheritance of the circle - a symbol of divine nature born in every human, drawn by every child.



List of Illustrations
Figure 1.1: Authors own, Castlerigg, England, 2019

Figure 1.2: Authors own, Castlerigg, England, 2019

Figure 2.1: Authors own, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland, 2019

Figure 2.2: Authors own, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland, 2019

Figure 2.3: Authors own, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland, 2019

Figure 2.4: Authors own, Kilmartin Glen - Cup and Ring Marks, Scotland, 2019

Figure 2.5: Authors own, Kilmartin Glen - Cup and Ring Marks, Scotland, 2019

Figure 2.6: Authors own, Kilmartin Glen - Cup and Ring Marks, Scotland, 2019

Figure 3: Katsuuu 44, Ōyu Stone Circle, Japan, 2005. Sourced from: kyaabo/64454897/ [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 4: Ancient Origins, Rujm el-Hiri, Golan Heights, 2019. Sourced from: https://www.ancient- archaeologists-020618 [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 5: Native Net, Native American Drum Circle, 1906. Sourced from: http://www.native- [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 6: Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle, Oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1923. Sourced from: [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 7: Barbara Hepworth, Two Forms (Divided Circle), Bronze, Edition of 6, 1969. Sourced from: [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 8.1: Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, Utah, 1976. Sourced from: art/articles/2017/april/05/how-nancy-holts-sun-tunnels-link-us-to-the-cosmos/ [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 8.2: Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, Utah, 1976. Sourced from: visionary-land-nancy-holt [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 9: ASUNA, 100 Keyboards, South London Gallery, 2019. Photo: Minoru Sato. Sourced from: [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 10: NVA, Half Life, Kilmartin Glen, 2007. Photo: Euan Myles. Sourced from: http:// [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 11.1: Art Junction, Controlled Scribble. Sourced from: young_in_art.pdf [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 11.2: Art Junction, A Family Portrait Consisting of Several Tadpole Figures. Sourced from: [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 12: Theodoros Pelecanos, Ouroboros, 1478. Sourced from: http:// [accessed 13 January 2020]

Figure 13: Kazuaki Tanahashi, Miracles of Each Moment - Ensō, Arcylic on canvas, 2014. Sourced from: [accessed 13 January 2020]

This dissertation aims to discover and understand why the circle is an essential symbol recurring throughout human existence. I am constantly drawn to it; I see it in everything I do, I see it everywhere I go. The circle exists in life and in death, the infinite nature of its existence pulls me in. In an attempt to understand why humans are drawn to the circle, the dissertation argues that the circle is a way of life and a way of thinking; it transcends time and space existing throughout history in every life. During this dissertation I will be referring to the circle in an abstract way. It is still the circle that we are familiar with: the face of a clock; a wheel on a bike; the shape of our planet - but it is also a theory, a belief. A belief in something that is profound. Does the circle mean more than what our mind perceives? I aim to understand why humans have been recreating circles in their own environment for thousands of years. Resourcing the research of archeologists and professors, such as Abraham Akkerman and Aubrey Burl, focus of the circle begins with four distinct Neolithic stone circles spread across the globe; the mystery surrounding their creation providing impact to this day. The correlation to solstices, and references to the Universe will be explored; why did our ancestors look to the skies and create these symbols on the earth? To understand their cultural setting and relationship to society allows for insight into how people experienced their lives in relation to the world around them. Furthermore the relationship between Buddhism, and American Indian communities, with the circle will be analysed as an early expression of using the circle beyond a physical form and as a way of life and thinking. The research of Carl Jung, Manuel Lima, and others, will be used to explore where the circle could have originated from to form new discussions away from astronomy and towards human biology. References to a series of artworks in different mediums will explore the correlation between human interaction with the circle and its symbolism within the art world. The circle is present in paintings, sculpture and performance art, to name a few, and these contrasting mediums will depict the power of the circle each, effecting viewers experiences differently. And finally: to explore the significance of a child drawing the circle for the first time as well as psychological experiments that argue human preference to curved shapes. As a species why are we drawn to the circle? It lives in all of us; we are born with an innate understanding that circles make us feel connected, whole, and understood.

Chapter One:

Circle as first form: Neolithic forms of the circle within environment and society.
Homo sapiens looked to the skies and saw the sun, the moon, and the stars. They saw a circle moving through the sky and replicated it in their lives. Humans constructed a monument to relate their experience to the earth, that would stand for the next five thousand years, thousands still present to this day, subsequently causing the circle to be ever-existing. Is this a message from our ancestors to us today? To understand how the circle is perceived in human experience on Earth, early works left behind from the Neolithic period will be analysed. The stone circles under discussion in Chapter One are Castlerigg, Kilmartin Glen, Ōyu Stone Circle, and Rujm el-Hiri, located in the UK, Japan, and Syria.

Stated by archaeologist Aubrey Burl, ‘across a thousand years the mixing and change continued until at some time, perhaps in the mid-third millennium BC, a stone circle was built. Where it was built, when, and from what impulse it came are unanswerable questions.’1 To begin to understand why these sites would have been created, it must be understood that those of the Neolithic period would have had very different experiences with society, relationships, culture, and nature than experiences now. A sense of community would have been prominent within specific areas, beliefs becoming spiritual as life was only measurable through experience. Experience is what would make each person different from the next, as it still does today. Today we are affected by our experiences, but there are things we already know before we have experienced them: unlike a Neolithic person. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff and philosophy professor Mark Johnson state that ‘cultural assumptions, values, and attitudes are not a conceptual overlay which we may or may not place upon experience as we choose’ but that ‘all experience is cultural through and through.’2 Communities would have their own metaphors understood within their cultural setting, stone circles becoming a metaphor for something the community believed in. This plays a large part in why it is difficult to interpret the stone circles today, supported by the statement from author of The Book of Circles: Visualising Spheres of Knowledge, Manuel Lima, ‘cultural metaphors have inherent limitations.’3 This is because cultural metaphors are limited to a social group of people, the group as big as a country or as small as a circle of friends, whereas universal metaphors have a quality that transcends time and space. It could be argued that the circle is the universal metaphor, living for the entirety of time in every human, and the stone circle is a cultural translation of the circle, specific to the Neolithic creators. Over decades researchers have explored stone circles to understand what they mean in

relation to the Neolithic period. Justifying the idea that experience is what drove human life, communication with each other, and their surroundings, Colin Richards, a professor specialising in Neolithic archaeology, monumentality, and ethnoarchaeology, states, ‘the construction of stone circles is suggested to be a social process of great consequence as opposed to a manifestation of principles of least effort or an exercise in efficiency.’4 By creating a monument that changes the natural landscape, an action has been performed, allowing the creator, users, and viewers, to experience something beyond what was already there. Richards suggests that ‘the building of a monument may often...have been of greater importance than the completed form.’5 Perhaps the exact final form - a slight bend in the circle, or a slightly flat side - would not cause negative consequence in the final result, as the experience and intention of making the circle holds more significance. As the stones are set in place, they are stood vertically - a design of specific intention. Richards comments that this ‘position draws an analogy with the human body.’6 Parallels between the site and the physical appearance of humans could represent a sense of self within the environment, and even reflect members of the community. Perhaps rituals and ceremonies were circular, people forming circles in or around the site - however this is speculation as records are non-existent. The only records are the stones that are left behind.

In this dissertation, the exploration of the significance of the circle and our relationship with it as humans, begins in Cumbria, North West England near Keswick. Before the sun had risen, I took the train to Keswick and after receiving a hand drawn map to the stones, I climbed a steep hill until I broke open into a field. At first it appeared empty, but as I walked further in, at the raised centre, lied Castlerigg (Figure 1.1 and 1.2). Some forty standing stones climbing out of the Earth, claiming a place in the skyline forcing an experience upon the viewer. Located between the mountains Skiddaw and Helvellyn, I am confronted by a 360-degree view of the Lake District’s mountain range, the dramatic visual scenery indicating the importance of the site. The circle feels constant and deep-rooted to this environment and the exact nature of the location allows me to only view it in a circular motion; to see the whole site, you must turn on the spot. The stone circle is cast inside a circle of mountains, each peak preventing my eyes from seeing the horizon. Due to evolution of the human experience on Earth and a changing relationship with the land over time, the remains look lost in our environment; we do not understand our environment in the same way that our environment was once understood by our ancestors. But nonetheless, a stone circle was created and this is how the circle can be understood as a profound symbol, an underlying experience in every human.


I found my experience of visiting the site to be highly emotional, at first overwhelming then subduing to a feeling of being free, at peace, and at home. In Overlay, a book about the relationship between contemporary art and prehistoric sites, author Lucy Lippard comments on the emotion she felt at stone circles she visited. Lippard explains that the attraction contemporary artists have to ancient sites is nostalgia ‘for any time when what people made (art) had a secure place in their daily lives.’7 Perhaps I was nostalgic, jealous of the creators who lived with their creation each day, as opposed to the world in which I live, surrounded by the creations of others. Lippard believes that the evidence of human intervention with the environment is compelling and upon discovering sites she states ‘I know this is human made. I think neither of a boundless nature nor of gods or goddesses, but of the people who made these places.’8 My own experience at the site has allowed for a more “humanised” approach to the subject, that perhaps why the Neolithic were so attracted to circles is the same reason I am: we are human.

To understand that these sites are not unique to an individual human experience, other creations should be reviewed. The next site, Kilmartin Glen (Figures 2.1-2.3), features standing stones, but more significantly, has cup and ring marks made on the stones. Perhaps markers for location, or directions for travellers, it is clear they provided something beneficial to the communities in the region due to their quantities spread over vast distances. When visiting the site, I was struck by the detail of these markings on the standing stones and it becomes difficult to simplify the findings and denote them as small marks lost in history. The meaning of these cup and ring marks is still unknown today but theories can be contemplated. Reason to believe these sites were specifically chosen in the hope that they would provide a use in their environment is evidenced by Abraham Akkerman, a professor in geography and philosophy, who states that the cup marks were in locations ‘unobstructed by topography [and] the northern nightly sky could be seen all the way to the horizon.’9 Being able to see the land below without obstructions would be useful in protecting the community from external threats. Being able to see a full night sky would allow people to look to the stars and begin to associate with the cosmos, tracking stars through the seasons, and those that changed and rotated across the night sky.



An interpretation noted by Akkerman is that they are ‘imprints of bright circumpolar stars revolving round a pivot - the north celestial pole - much as images of the nightly skies photographed through extended exposure.’10 In a time without written records - or science as we know it today - some sought methods to share these discoveries. As a species we are drawn to expressing what we have learnt and as stated by Lima ‘humans are innate image makers and image enjoyers’ and that ‘millennia before written language, humans employed images to communicate and express themselves, as well as to record and recall events.’11 This can be seen in examples such as petroglyphs and pictographs created by humans living in the Upper Paleolithic period, dating back to 35,000 BC, providing evidence for the desire of expression without definitive reasoning or purpose.12 Humans are makers and creators and our environment drives us to find satisfaction in that; the circle becoming a way of encouraging it. Cup and ring marks can be seen as astronomical interpretations; the marks often having a singular line carved from the centre to the outside of the ring. Akkerman suggests that this line could ‘chart the “axle of the world”’ of which ‘the celestial sphere rotates.’13 However there is no evidence to suggest that the Neolithic people would know that the Earth rotated on its axis. It is apparent to humans now, but this was knowledge obtained several thousand years later in India and China.14 The significance of cup and ring marks are their shape: a circle. Carving into rock is no simple task, and to produce an almost perfect circle every time would have taken skill. So why a circle? Neolithic humans would have found circles in their lives every day. As the sun, a circle, sets on the horizon, smaller circles of light would appear in the sky every night. Akkerman states that there would have been ‘considerable comfort [...] in the constant and perpetual patterns in the nightly sky [...] [a] source of permanency, predictability and assurance.’15 Watching these reoccurring shapes float through their skies, could have translated into the cup and ring marks. It is clear that as humans, we have relationships with the organic, with the world around us, and what we see in the sky - the circle is present with humans every day.

Ōyu Stone Circle stands in a northern field in the Japanese city of Kazuno. A late Jomon- era artefact, built approximately two thousand BC, is of unique interest because it features “sundials” discovered on location, as seen in Figure 3. Junko Habu, an associate professor in anthropology, writes specifically on the Jomon period in Japan and emphasises the idea of sundials; ‘elongated stones are placed in a radiating pattern, with a large upright stone at the centre.’16 This informs us that humans were using the sun to measure time, to understand their days, and relate what was happening in the skies to the human experience. This implies that the Jomon people were aware of the summer and winter solstice; their sundial collection of stones pointing towards sunset on the summer solstice.17 Therefore the construction was directly linked to astronomical observations - requiring a labour-intensive process and commitment to completing the work. The great effort and ingenuity it must have taken to complete these monuments cannot be underestimated. Ōyu Stone Circle was predicted to have taken two hundred years to complete, generations of humans moving stone after stone to build a site with the intention of benefitting their lives by adding a greater and profound meaning to the way they live. They left behind their greatest creation, thus confirming a common purpose. The circle has become the instrument for the measurement of time and an astronomical calendar, showing there is no confinement to the use of the circle.

Another site under analysis is Rujm el-Hiri (Figure 4), a stone circle created in the Israeli- occupied portion of Golan Heights. The site, made with more than forty-two thousand basalt rocks taking sixty-five years to construct, would have been a massive undertaking and is testimony to the significance that the circle would have symbolised in the lives of those that built it. The site is of a different nature to the stone circles in Britain; rather than erecting large stones into the standing position we are accustomed to seeing, small stones were laid out in circular rings, densely packed to create walls over a metre wide and high. Explorations of this site have provided theories about the stones such as, a place of worship; on the longest day of the year, the first rays of sunshine come through the opening in the north-east gate with evidence also suggesting it was an ancient calendar; when the two equinoxes occur, the sun’s rays would pass between two rocks at the eastern edge of the site.18 Aligning stones to sunlight, implies evidence that humans were aware of the cosmos and were beginning to develop their relationship with it, and perhaps even if they were not aware of the circle throughout the cosmos - the shape of atoms, cells, planets, and stars - it is profoundly powerful to think they still used the circle to depict it.

This discussion and review of the stone circles endeavours to understand the impact that the environment had on the people that were living there. These stone circles were created in a time of no tools and equipment that match the technologies we have today, yet they capture and understand very precise and specific solar and lunar events as a means to comprehend and understand the cosmos in the absence of explanation as we would know it. A solar eclipse, for example, could have been a rather daunting and frightening experience. This event would have been of extreme significance, especially for those who would be witnessing it for the first time. Looking into the eyes of a human, there is a dark circle surrounded by another circle. This shape is born in us, in space, and in nature, and can be argued that it compelled humans to create it in their own world. There is no evidence of the human activities that took place on these sites beyond the stone constructions, which is frustrating and intriguing as the research has elements of both presumption and imagination. However through the remains left behind, we can learn about the deep rooted connection to the circle, astronomical activity, and human experience. From this we can understand that humans have had a relationship with the circle for thousands of years, an attraction engrained in all of us, the circle providing a feeling of being whole, balanced, and connected.


1 Aubrey Burl, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, (Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 45.

2 Mark Johnson and George Lakoff, Metaphors We Live By, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), p.57.

3 Manuel Lima, The Book of Circles: Visualising Spheres of Knowledge, (California: Chronicle Books, 2017), p. 32.

4 Colin Richards, Building the Great Stone Circles of the North, (Oxford: Windgather Press, 2013), p. 28.

5 Ibid., p. 29.

6 Ibid., p. 28.

7 Lucy Lippard, Overlay, (New York: The New Press, 1983), p. 4.

8 Lippard, Overlay, p. 4.

9 Abraham Akkerman, Phenomenology of the Winter-City: Myth in the Rise and Decline of Built Environments, (Berlin: Springer, 2016), p. 34.

10 Akkerman, Phenomenology of the Winter-City: Myth in the Rise and Decline of Built Environments, p. 34. 11 Lima, The Book of Circles: Visualising Spheres of Knowledge, p. 27.

12 Carol Diaz-Granados and James Duncan, The Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Missouri, (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 2000), p. 81.

13 Akkerman, Phenomenology of the Winter-City: Myth in the Rise and Decline of Built Environments, p. 35.

14 Axel Wittmann, ‘The Obliquity of the Ecliptic’ in Astronomy and Astrophysics, (Germany: European Southern Observatory, 1978), pp. 129-131 (p. 130).

15 Akkerman, Phenomenology of the Winter-City: Myth in the Rise and Decline of Built Environments, p. 35.

16 Junko Habu, Ancient Jomon of Japan, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 184.

17 Jomon Japan [online], [accessed 31 October 2019]

18 K. Kris Hirst, Thought Co. [online], [accessed 28 October 2019]

Chapter Two:

The circle as a way of thinking within Buddhism and American Indian history.
This chapter will explore the circle as a structural way of thinking, featuring the psychology and beliefs surrounding the circle. It is evident that across the globe the circle has had a relationship with human life and experience, but it is interesting to discover what it means for individual communities, religions, or societies. The research will begin with the representation of the mandala in Buddhism because it is seen as an early use of the circle to symbolise the cosmos as well as humans. Using examples from Mano Daniel and Lester Embree, the chapter explores the correlation between the mandala and the eye, discussing how the circle is present within human biology as well as the world around us. The circle is also looked at as a psychological tool, a basis for learning and thinking; it is more than just a physical shape. This is seen in American Indian methods of teaching where children and adults learn with an holistic approach, engaging the whole brain through experience. The research is aimed at how people have perceived themselves and the world around them through using the circle as a means of connection, learning, and art.

Throughout the chapter there will be reference to the mandala - the Sanskrit meaning of circle.19 The mandala is perhaps one of the earliest demonstrations - first seen in Buddhism in the fourth century - of using the circle as a way of self-representation, but also still referring to something higher and bigger, the Universe. Author Nancy Blume states ‘a mandala is a symbol of the universe in its ideal form [...] its creation signifies the transformation of a universe of suffering into one of joy’ and aids meditators to ‘envision how to achieve the perfect self.’20 It can be understood that the circle has a profound meaning; it completes us as humans and our experience on Earth. It has been used to understand the Universe and represent the unknown, as well as a psychological tool to help advance the sense of self and our relationship with the world.

Earlier discussions into the Neolithic understanding of the circle prompted questions about where the circle was seen in their environment and it has been suggested that the interest in the circle could have originated from the eye. A similar idea has been suggested by the authors of Phenomenology of the Cultural Disciplines, Mano Daniel and Lester Embree, who state ‘the mystic circle that is the mandala is spatially patterned on that original mystic circle that is the eye.’21 Previously evidence suggested that the circle came from astronomical discovery, but perhaps the circle is so prominent in our lives is because of the primary, physical experience in our relations to other people; the first circle originating from the human eye. Carl Jung, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst influential in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, philosophy, and religious studies, describes the mandala and the circle as a means ‘meant to shut out the outside and hold the inside together.’22 This prompted contemplation from Daniel and Embree who go on to compare this meaning to the eye and come to conclude that our eye shuts out the outside and holds the inside together by closing or glazing itself, keeping the world outside.23 This argument is also supported by Lima who discusses the importance of the eye, noting that its complexity demands half the brain to process visuals, and that the circles of the iris and the pupil ‘create a natural circular frame for our visual world, which on its own could substantiate an innate preference for matching geometric shapes.’24 However our visual field is spherical, the non- Euclidean system causing parallel lines to converge towards the periphery. Nevertheless, research from theoretical neurobiologist Mark Changizi comments on this way of seeing and states ‘non- Euclidean geometry, the kind needed to understand general relativity, is beyond our everyday experience, since we think of the world in a Euclidean manner.’25 This is suggesting that although we may view the world with spherical distortion, we think in a different manner, our brain preferring the hypnotic effect of the concentric circles. Lima suggests that the deeper we look into our shared cognitive biases, we can recognise the copious layers of cultural meaning we have added to the circle, and that ‘the circle’s inescapable beauty seems deeply rooted in our biology.’26 Perhaps the circle is most symbolic in ourselves and through seeing, we are comforted by the shape that we see in our neighbours’ eyes.

The research into American Indian native art and its history with the circle considers the relationship between the individual and the creations; Native art draws from emotive experience and understanding the individual and collective experience on Earth. Christine Ballengee-Morris, a professor in arts administration and education, suggests that how nature is expressed through indigenous art provides ‘the conceptual basis for understanding place and space within traditional Native cultures.’27 An entirely different community from the Neolithic people in Britain, Jōmon people in Japan, and Buddhists in the East using circles, shows the similarities of understanding in the relationship between the land and the occupiers. By creating art the creators are building relationships between environment and spirituality, which Ballengee-Morris supports by stating ‘spaces, music, dance, or visual arts, is the celebration of human continuity with the Earth and identity.’28 It is interesting that suggestions of community-based activity are related to the experience with the circle and with art, seen in the drum circle in Figure 5. It supports earlier research such as the community behind Ōyu Stone Circle, who felt strong ties to their environment resulting in decades of transporting rocks laid to exist for thousands of years to come. Ballengee-Morris continues to say ‘specific ties to the land unite communities and reflect various aspects of one’s existence.’29 Uniting communities on chosen land is integral to the American Indian way of life as it creates bonds that can last for generations and suggests important ideas of building a relationship with the environment.

In the research about American Indian approaches to education, there is a response to the natural and the individual as a unique and important part of the community. We should begin to consider how the circle could infiltrate our way of thinking and how we communicate ideas. It would involve thinking beyond right or wrong, left or right, or binary methods, as there is a devoutness to the whole and to understand subjects with a holistic approach. Stephen Sachs, a professor emeritus of political science, writes about applying these methods of education into mainstream America and the benefits of understanding each other and learning in an open and inclusive manner would provide. He states each human is born ‘one place in the circle of life, with its own way of seeing’ and when there is a ‘holistic approach to life and issues [...] the result is a much more inclusive, comprehensive and nuanced understanding.’30 This suggests when considering life as a circle, life passing through to the next, we have a deeper understanding of ourself as an individual but also of ourselves within the space that we inhabit. Sachs continues to suggest that thinking this way where everything feeds into the next, is of a higher level of complexity as the approach includes ‘all the related factors over time and all the interests and concerns involved in any situation or issue’ and that the holistic and participatory way of learning ‘engages the whole brain as the learning process extends to all realms of activity from the physical to the spiritual, which traditionally are viewed as interconnected aspects of the whole life.’31 This is not directly referring to the circle as a physical tool in learning, but as a method obtained through American Indian approaches where the basis of understanding our lives comes from the circle. It is prominent in everything they do, and has developed into something more than just a symbol or shape, but a belief, and a way of life; encouraging development of the child not through examination and memory, but through experience, living, and understanding. Ballengee-Morris also compares approaches to learning practices between American Indians and the United States. She states that in American Indian communities the arts are viewed from parallel time: ‘the past and future are in the present [...] constant but at the same time in process’ whereas in the United States reference is made to the ‘past being the past and the future yet to come.’32 This thinking comes from two different approaches, the American Indian having constant contact with the past and the future in a harmonious balance, represented by the circle. Perhaps if we adopted this way of thinking and teaching, we would have a more spiritual and connected understanding of ourselves, each other, and the relationship with our environment.

From research into the Buddhist relation to the circle, there are two key representations: the self and the cosmos. Blume provides evidence that the creation of the mandala helps to encourage an approach and understanding to the perfect self. The theory by Daniel and Embree suggesting the eyes were the source for the creation of the mandala is profound; it is an incredible idea that human biology creating the circle naturally has caused humans to be drawn to it universally and infinitely. Research into the American Indian relation to the circle, evidences that there is an emphasis on emotion and experience, and research from Ballengee-Morris helps to conclude that the circle deeply assists our understanding of place and space, uniting communities and helping in the discovery of development of our own existence. The circle is a belief; it is beyond a symbol written on paper, and encourages a way of life and learning. This can be seen in the research of Sachs who comparatively explores education in American Indian communities and mainstream America. The contrast is evident, with a more holistic approach that engages the whole brain not yet explored in American education. There is a stronger basis on the self, the environment, and learning about everything as one through experience rather than examinations. The circle has been present in human existence for thousands of years and our relationship with the circle can develop to more than a physicality or symbol, but a method of thinking.

19 Lester Embree and Mano Daniel, Phenomenology of the Cultural Disciplines, (Berlin: Springer Science and Business Media, 2007), p. 106.

20 Nancy Blume, Asia Society [online] [accessed 3 December 2019]

21 Embree and Daniel, Phenomenology of the Cultural Disciplines, p. 106.

22 Carl Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), p. 356.

23 Embree and Daniel, Phenomenology of the Cultural Disciplines, p. 106.

24 Lima, The Book of Circles: Visualising Spheres of Knowledge, p. 53.

25 Mark Changizi, The Brain from 25,000 Feet: High Level Explorations of Brain Complexity, Perception, Induction and Vagueness, (Berlin: Springer Science and Business Media, 2013), p. 101.

26 Lima, The Book of Circles: Visualising Spheres of Knowledge, p. 54.

27 Christine Ballengee-Morris, ‘Indigenous Aesthetics: Universal Circles related and connected to everything called life’, Art Education, Volume 61, Issue 2, (2015) p. 30-33, (p. 31). <> [accessed 20 November 2019]

28 Ibid., p. 31. 29 Ibid., p. 31.

30 Stephen Sachs, ‘Learning In The Circle: Applying American Indian Ways to Improving Education in Contemporary Mainstream America’, Indigenous Policy Journal, Volume 29, Issue 2, (2018) p. 59. <> [accessed 20 November 2019]

31 Sachs, ‘Learning In The Circle: Applying American Indian Ways to Improving Education in Contemporary Mainstream America’, Indigenous Policy Journal, Volume 29, Issue 2, p. 59.

32 Ballengee-Morris, ‘Indigenous Aesthetics: Universal Circles related and connected to everything called life’, Art Education, Volume 61, Issue 2, p. 31.

Chapter Three:

Human experience to modern and contemporary art.
This dissertation has featured primary experience and existing accounts, knowledge, and theories about those experiences. These experiences have led to discoveries into how we can have an individual experience on Earth as well as how we can have a universal experience as a species. This has encouraged an interest in others who also feel compelled to include circles within their work and creations. Modern and contemporary art is our means for recognition and connection, and within the world of art, there have always been circles present, which is the topic of discussion in this chapter. The arguments presented draw from viewer experiences with art and the successful and unsuccessful affects of the circle being used as a tool of representation and metaphorical meaning.

Wassily Kandinsky’s painting, Circles in a Circle (Figure 6), completed in 1923, features twenty-six circles overlapping one another enclosed in a much larger circle. He has stated that the composition symbolises cosmic harmony, the circles combining opposites to create balance.33 Understanding that for Kandinsky this was combining the concentric with the eccentric shows that the circle is significant in this piece, the shape is inclusive, yet each circle still stands independent of another. He allows us to understand it as an abstract but emotive form. Are these representations of people, planets, or systems - the answer is not always necessary, simply seeing the circle evokes a personal reaction to the individual viewer.

Other work such as Two Forms (Divided Circle) created by Barbara Hepworth in 1969, draws from the relationship between humans and circles. Her piece features two “empty” circles, cast from bronze, the circles remain hollow allowing the viewer to look through. On discussing the work she seeks to involve the viewer and that working large is natural: ‘it fits one’s body.’34 Involving the viewer is essential to this work as she states ‘you can climb through the Divided Circle - you don’t need to do it physically to experience it’, which perhaps once again suggests that there is an emotional experience alongside the circle, it is more than a physical shape, creating a fascinating complex of the circle in her work.35 As a shape that allows the viewer to see through it, and positioned in a way not unlike the Neolithic people and their standing stones, there is a human resemblance to them, as seen in Figure 7. A reconstruction of circular forms in modern art is our way of understanding a basic physical level. She has stated in a letter for the Tate Gallery Archive, ‘in a big work I want to see the sun or moon.’36 Although this could be understood as an obvious representation of a circle, it still draws from the experiences humans have with the solar system and the cosmos and why we feel the need to recreate it in our own lives and environment.

Perhaps a very significant work, that can be compared to the creations of stone circles five thousand years ago, is Sun Tunnels created in 1976 by Nancy Holt (Figure 8.1). Looking at the form of the sculpture, there is a clear and distinct relationship between the land and the work. The work developed over many years allowing Holt to build a relationship with the land, creating a completely personal experience and as stated by writer Cat Kron, ‘the sites were the piece.’37 Positioned precisely, the four tubes frame the sun on the horizon at summer and winter solstice creating a relationship between the sculpture and the sun (Figure 8.2). Holt has simplified her relationship with the environment in the most beautiful way, causing no damage or long-term impact to the site, but bringing awareness to the stunning phenomena in nature. Her tunnels involve the viewer, each big enough to fit a standing person, making the tunnels appear human- like in nature, linking us to the environment directly. Similarities to the stone circles can be seen and although Holt’s tubes are focal points, they differ from vertical freestanding stones. The site is to be left exactly as found, with visitors leaving no trace. Just like the Neolithic people and their stone circles, human activity at the site is impossible to completely understand or visualise as the sculptures will be the only tests of time. Perhaps those from the Neolithic age would have enjoyed her creation very much.


Performance art can also serve access to similar experiences and this is evident after witnessing an exhibition for Sonic-a in Glasgow, created by Japanese artist ASUNA. 100 Keyboards (Figure 9) is an installation sound work consisting of keys on one hundred keyboards being played simultaneously. Although the sound, and complexity of the piece is intriguing, the composition of the piece involves human relationship with the circle. The keyboards lie in a concentric circle, with a lamp at the centre brightening the space. Set to play a single note continuously until each keyboard is emitting a single sound, Sonic-a describes this as ‘a digital-choral drone in which a hundred subtle differences of tone and frequency combine and resonate.’38 The piece itself is exciting but the audience reaction is where primary evidence of gathering in a circle formation can be understood. As the performance began, people lingered to the sides and watched in anticipation, but as the sound progressed and ASUNA moved from keyboard to keyboard, human inquisitiveness took over and propelled people closer and closer to the keyboards. They began to move around the space in a circular motion, until the peak of the performance when every keyboard was resonating sound. At this moment perhaps sixty people rotated around the installation at a harmonious pace with each other. The power of the circle, forced people to view the work this way, encouraging behaviour similar in communities across the globe throughout history where the circle was part of their way of life. As a member of the audience, I too was propelled into action and found it comforting to be surrounded by people performing the same action. The light radiating from the centre encourages parallels to be drawn from the sun and astronomical activity. We orbited the light, just like planets around a star, listening to the sound emitted from the keyboards. This experience provided evidence that as a species we are always drawn to the circle, and it will always be replicated in our environment, never constricted to any one medium or method.

There is a more direct combination of these ideas in a performance piece that happened at the site of Kilmartin Glen. In 2007, NVA, nacionale vitae activae (meaning “the right to influence public affairs”) and the National Theatre of Scotland, a group of performers, researchers, artists, and like-minded individuals with interest in the Neolithic, created Half Life. The performance and overall immersive experience, a work that explored the relationship between site and human, encourages a new relationship to be formed with Kilmartin Glen, combining landscape art with experimental music and a written play. Writer Lucy Ribchester reviewed the event and states that ‘after a while you cannot help but be embroiled in a sense of ritual and spirituality’ which builds towards an attempt at giving narrative to the fragments of history.39 The idea that Kilmartin Glen still evokes a sense of mystery around rituals and what would have once happened there encourages the viewer to consider their relationship with land, the environment, and with circles. Ribchester states that ‘you begin to forget you are staring at a pile of ancient stones...and start to reflect on past encounters the land has witnessed.’40 Our relationship to the land has ever- changed since the Neolithic period, yet their impact is still evident. Their creations of circles have brought people together thousands of years later in ritualistic behaviour to absorb meaning from the site.

However, the performance has been criticised for a feeling of being incomplete - in a review written by Mark Fisher, he states it ‘cries out for resolution.’41 It is disappointing to think that at such a profound site, there was an elusive nature that alienated viewers. However the performance draws from a past that remains enigmatic and unexperienced, there will always be a deficiency in what can be discovered. People made their way to the site, engaging and learning about the relationship Neolithic people would have had with the land. Kenneth Brophy, a senior lecturer in archaeology, suggests that the reviews critiquing the ambiguity of the play were perhaps premature and misunderstood as he believes that the ‘ambivalence of the script was a metaphor for the ambiguity of archaeological practice, where we excavate through various layers, looking for meaning, and ending up with a series of interpretations.’42 This uncertainty is not new to researching and learning about the past - especially the past with no records except for physical artefacts. Brophy goes on to comment about this uncertainty, stating that ‘the play captured well the frustrations of archaeology, the obsessions, the ritualisation of practice’, perhaps also captured in this dissertation.43 There lies presumption about sites and activities that would have happened there because there is no way of contacting the Neolithic to answer our questions. Therefore, understanding the relationship humans today have with the circle, and the environment, provides insight into those who made these creations thousands of years ago.

The piece of work as a whole, appears to - rather fittingly - come full circle, the stage made of timber gradually returning to the woodland from which it came, a striking contrast to the creations of the Neolithic who’s site still stands today - the profound nature of the circle still prominent. Herein lie two polar opposites: the stone circles still standing tall, their remains the only evidence, and Half Life, no longer visually existing, but leaving an abundance of documentation. Although this work has no distinct relationship to the circle or to the relationship humans have with it, it is integral to understanding human behaviour in relation to a site. Without the Neolithic people creating stone circles and cup and ring marks at this location, the performance and the work of NVA would not have happened. Each experience we have as humans links to the next, directly linking the creation of stone circles to our lives today. There is a deep- rooted connection to the circle and the way humans interact with it, and the environment we find it in, and for that reason the circle is profound and completely necessary to understanding the world around us.

Discussing these artists and their work aimed to understand how art involving the circle shows the continuous presence of the circle in human life. Lippard suggests an approach to art that premises ‘art has social significance and a social function, which might be defined as the transformation of desire into reality, reality into dreams and change, and back again.’44 Believing that effective art perceives and understands any aspect of life, provides an understanding of perhaps why the work of NVA was not as successful as Holt’s for example. Half Life was simply created, not drawing from cultural change and providing metaphors for emotion and interaction. The metaphor was already there, Kilmartin Glen, the Neolithic interpretation of the circle in relation to the cosmos. Lippard states ‘the social element of response, of exchange, is crucial even to the most formalised objects or performances.’45 Although Half Life was significant in reiterating human inquisitiveness to look to the past activities of humans, the performance remains as an unresolved mystery.

This chapter looked at a variety of work that draw from similar themes and beliefs. Kandinsky’s painting was discussed as a creation representing the circle as the cosmos and the mystery of the Universe. Hepworth’s work uses the circle to portray themes of the body and self, using physical experience to evoke a reaction from the viewer, but not limiting the experience to purely physical, believing that the work can be climbed through visually by seeing through the circle. Holt’s work relies on the solstice as the pinnacle of the piece, a site chosen specifically after exploring the land and building a relationship. I can conclude that we want to place ourselves in our environment, that the symbiosis between human and environment is integral to understanding ourselves. Realising that Holt’s and Neilson’s works drew from emotion and human experience, I can quite comfortably suggest that emotive reasons are significant in the reasoning why the circle is so present in our lives still to this day. The circle has been used as a tool to evoke a reaction and relation to the viewer. At the stone circles I have visited, I still feel something when I experience the site. Just like those who had visited the Sun Tunnels by Holt. Just like Lippard finding her first stone circle. We are distinctly connected to our environment and these sites only enhance that belief. As I draw from personal experience of ASUNA’s work, I found distinct links between the circle and the behaviour it encouraged in people. Half Life was an exciting discussion because from the performance, conclusions lie with disappointment and an unresolved mystery, similar to the stone circle and cup and ring marks; there is a multitude of information that remains unknown to us, perhaps this is the power of the circle which is everywhere yet nowhere.

33 Artistic Junkie [online] [accessed 25 November 2019]
34 Alan Bowness, The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, (London: Lund Humphries, 1971), p. 7. 35 Bowness, The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, p. 12.

36 Tate [online] [accessed 25 November 2019]

37 Cat Kron, Artsy [online] masterpiece [accessed 30 November 2019]

38 Sonic-a [online] [accessed 30 November 2019]

39 Lucy Ribchester, British Theatre Guide [online] [accessed 3 December 2019]

40 Ribchester, British Theatre Guide [online] [accessed 3 December 2019]

41 Mark Fisher, The Guardian [online] [accessed 3 December 2019]

42 Kenneth Brophy, ‘Half Life. NVA and National Theatre of Scotland, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll’, Scottish Archaeological Journal, Volume 28, Issue 2, (2006) p.153-155, (p. 154). < now=1&seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents> [accessed 25 November 2019]

43 Brophy, ‘Half Life. NVA and National Theatre of Scotland, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll’, Scottish Archaeological Journal, Volume 28, Issue 2, p. 154.

44 Lippard, Overlay, p. 5. 45 Lippard, Overlay, p. 5.

Chapter Four:

The inheritance of the circle - a symbol of divine nature born in every human, drawn by every chil
As we put a pencil to paper, a colour appears on the page. We repeat and repeat, our muscles growing stronger until one moment when we draw the most symbolic and prominent shape to exist. We have drawn the circle. The shape of the first atom that created the universe; the shape of the sun; the moon; and the stars, is the first creation we lay on paper and we are less than a year old.46 The circle has already existed and is once again reborn in each new life. This chapter researches into why children draw circles at the beginning of their development before anything else; is the circle an underlying basis for all experience? There is also research into the divine nature of the circle, explored through the theories of Plato, supported by research into the activity of the brain when drawing a circle. Humans have a preference towards the circle and find themselves connected to it, supported by psychological experiments since the 1900s that use people to describe how shapes and lines make them feel. This chapter discusses the power of the circle, its shape experienced by all of us when we first lay pencil to paper.

Understanding that the circle is of a “higher power” or of “divine” nature - terms used in quotations for emphasis - is not new to contemporary discussion. For example, in 360 BC, the circle was already beginning to be discussed in an abstract way when Plato wrote The Seventh Letter. This pinpoints the moment in philosophy when the circle is proposed as an idea. Anthony Kenny, a philosopher, dissects the letter and states that he has a subjective concept of the circle and his ‘understanding of what ‘circle’ means - is not the same as the Idea of the circle, because the Idea is an objective reality that is not the property of any individual mind.’47 This theory of Idealism proposes that the only “real” things are what we can construct idealistically in our mind, rather than the reality we perceive around us. Therefore, the circle is only perfect, or only a “circle” in our minds. Plato states that there are three things necessary if we are to come by knowledge; the name, the definition, and the image.48 From understanding the circle in these three categories, we are led to the fourth which tells us that knowledge, understanding and true opinion are ‘in our minds and not in sounds or bodily shapes, [...] distinct from the circle itself.’49 This perpetuates the idea that the circle is of a nature beyond our reality, beyond what our mind has believed the circle to be. If we each construct a perfect circle in our minds, and there is no such thing as a perfect circle in our reality, surely the circle has a powerful nature to it. The circle is reborn into each human life as a shape that we do not understand but try to subjectively translate into our lives. There is no equivalent reality of the circle in our material lives, unlike any other symbol used for understanding a subject, making the circle profound in its ability to last through the existence of human life.

Plato’s ideas encourages us to see the first act of drawing circles in an individual’s life as profound. The moment of drawing a circle creates a state where the brain and body can be so focused, coined ‘the flow’ by researcher, Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi.50 This notion that the brain is experiencing something beyond physical control, encourages the idea that the circle is of a higher power or divine; it makes the human mind behave in a way that is unlike any other drawing experience, and to suggest, unlike any other experience. Writer Barbara Ann Nilsen states that “the flow” is a ‘euphoric feeling’ where the brain is stimulated at the pleasure centres in a way that ‘transcends time and space.’51 This notion that an action as simple as drawing a circle on the page, is of a nature so unique and powerful that the brain explores new territories, and learns more about itself each time, is outstanding. The action could transcend time and space as the brain is no longer associating with the conscious and wanders to new places in the state of “euphoria”. It’s these activities that develop the child; through creation there is coordination on ‘cognitive ability, past experiences, and the present environment.’52 Writer of Interpreting Children’s Drawings, Joseph Di Leo, even agrees with the power of the circle and states ‘it is found universally to denote wholeness.’53 This provides evidence that there is belief in the circle as something more than the image it appears to be on the page. It is present in every human life - for the entirety of time.

Nilsen references children’s creative development and further supports the idea of a shared human experience by stating that ‘all children, all over the world, in whatever age they have lived, progress through the same basic stages in art.’54 One of these stages is drawing circles. This relationship with the circle can be understood to exist universally in every life. It can be argued, that the creation of the circle does not limit itself only to those who have the tools and are fortunate enough to be able to draw; the circle is limitless to any medium, as seen in the creations of stone circles. Di Leo states drawing a circle for the first time is when; ‘in the lives of all of us it marked the astounding moment when, in a casually drawn circle, we recognised something in our environment, perhaps a head.’55 This statement supports theories that suggest people in our world leads to a creation of circles (Figure 11.2). From the discussion in earlier chapters, it was suggested that the standing stones could be figures themselves as well as the circle originating from the eye. Now we are presented with an idea that suggests the drawing of a circle could too represent a head, a human, discussed further by psychologist Rudolf Arnheim. As a child begins to realise that a drawing can be used as pictures of other things, ‘the circle serves to represent almost any object, such as a human figure.’56 This connection to the circle is deeply ingrained in us since birth, our brain fascinated and captured by the meaning and versatility of the circle. However Arnheim identifies that the circle is not yet differentiated as a subject for ‘[it] does not stand for roundness, but only for the more general quality of “thingness”.’57 The circle does not mean one thing, it represents everything that we see, everything that we wish translate to imagery. The shape of the a circle is simple, but its meaning is not, the profound nature and power of the circle prominent in the early understanding of the world from a human perspective. Our human experience is perhaps most significantly impacted by the humans around us, the reoccurrence of the circle prominent in every life on earth.


Circles are deeply linked to astronomy: planets, the sun, the moon - this much is visibly clear, but there are circles that go unnoticed. This can be understood from Euclid’s Elements, written in 300 BC, where the properties of the circle were fully validated, pivotal to the development of geometry and astronomy.58 This has allowed for advancements in mathematics and science pivotal to human development as a species. The circle is also prominent yet often unnoticed in religion. For example; in Christianity, Hermes Trismegistus describes God as a circle, whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere.59 The circle can be seen in ancient history as ‘the eternal, invisible, and infinite God’ amongst the Hindus, Persians, and Egyptians, stated by writer and pastor John Patterson Lundy.60 Originally binaries that have been assumed to exist separately from each other, religion and science, can be understood as coexisting, united by the circle, something much stronger than each on their own. This widespread representation of the circle is also seen in the ouroboros and the ensō. Ouroboros (Figure 12) depicts a serpent or dragon eating its tail, feeding into the notion of the constant flow of life and death, and the endless universe.61 It is balance, harmonious like the circle. Ensō (Figure 13) is another example of the circle being used to symbolise pure enlightenment, the universe, the void, and infinity and as stated by author Audery Yoshiko Seo, ‘drawing an ensō [...] [is] a spiritual exercise.’62 This suggests the activity of drawing the circle as an adult is just as powerful as drawing one as a child. Examples known in great detail, universal metaphors, ouroboros and ensō represent the infinite nature of the circle. This theory is supported by Jung who states that symbols ‘represent more than is apparent’ because they are a ‘natural spontaneous phenomenon’ with a hidden meaning.63 With the circle present in the stone circles created thousands of years ago, and in the first drawings we make as children, there is something incomprehensible about the continuity of the circle and Jung rather eloquently depicts the circle as an ‘archetypal symbol reflecting the common neuropsychological inheritance of humankind.’64 Perhaps it does all boil down to chemicals in the brain, but it is reassuring each time it does, that every human is experiencing the same chemicals reacting with each other in their brain. We are simply not alone, and the circle that comes with each and every one of us, our first creation and our inheritance, symbolises that.


Understanding that the circle is our neuropsychological inheritance, it is then interesting to look at scientific studies into why the brain behaves in certain ways around the circle. It was suggested by psychologist Kate Gordon in 1909 that ‘curves are in general felt to be more beautiful than straight lines. They are more graceful and pliable, and avoid the harshness of some straight lines.’65 This was supported by the first experiment of its kind in 1921 by psychologist Helge Lundholm who found that angular lines were associated with feelings such as agitating, hard, and furious, compared to curved lines which were described as gentle, sad, quiet, and lazy.66 Further experiments were carried out by Poffenberger and Barrows in 1924, obtaining similar results, and later in 1935 by Hevner who improved upon the experiment by using shapes rather than lines. In this experiment she used circles, which were found as ‘serene, graceful, and tender-sentimental’ and squares, found as ‘robust, vigorous and somewhat more dignified.’67 However the most prolific discovery in this field of research was made by Moshe Bar and Maital Neta in 2006. The results were unsurprising; people preferred the rounded objects, however it wasn’t until 2007 when the experiment was repeated again with cognitive mapping using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that the results were conclusive. Angular objects evoked greater amygdala activation than curved objects.68 The amygdala is a region in the temporal lobe of the brain which processes stimuli that induce fear, anxiety, and aggressiveness. The attraction to the circle is engrained in human biology through millennia of evolution and adaption. The brain is wired to appreciate the circle, perhaps this is why as a species we have been creating the circle in our own environment for the entirety of time and why artists feature circles in their work; we already prefer it.

This chapter discovered that the drawing of a circle in early life is a stage that every child passes through and is essential to the development of processing and understanding their surroundings. As this happens in every child across the world, it can be concluded that human relationship with the circle is an integral part of our learning. There is an innateness to the circle, it is of a higher power, as it stimulates the brain when drawn. The drawing of the circle as a child is suggested to symbolise the head, reflecting theories of the standing stones representing figures too. The research into Plato’s Idealism discovered that there is no such thing as the perfect circle, it is something that can only exist in our minds but the fact that every human across the breadth of human existence, has created this ideal version of the circle, leads to the conclusion that the circle is of a higher nature, it is with every human for the entirety of time. The circle is our inheritance, and we can see that from the creations our ancestors made to the creations our children make.

46 Janie Franz, Encyclopaedia of Children’s Health [online] [accessed 20 November 2019]

47 Anthony Kenny, Ancient Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 1. (Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2012), p. 50.

48 Ibid., p. 49.

49 Ibid., p. 50.

50 Barbara Ann Nilsen, Week by Week: Plans for Documenting Children’s Development, (Boston: Cengage Learning, 2010), p. 268.

51 Ibid., p. 268.

52 Ibid., p. 268.

53 Joseph Di Leo, Interpreting Children’s Drawings, (Hove: Psychology Press, 1983), p. 13.

54 Nilsen, Week by Week: Plans for Documenting Children’s Development, p. 266.

55 Di Leo, Interpreting Children’s Drawings, p. 13.

56 Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, (California: University of California Press, 2004), p. 140.

57 Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, p. 177.

58 Thomas Heath, The Thirteen Books of Euclid’s Elements, Volume 1, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 153.

59 John Patterson Lundy, Monumental Christianity, Or, The Art and Symbolism of the Primitive Church: As Witnesses and Teachers of the One Catholic Faith Practice, p. 5

60 Patterson Lundy, Monumental Christianity, Or, The Art and Symbolism of the Primitive Church: As Witnesses and Teachers of the One Catholic Faith Practice, (London: J. W. Bouton, 1876), p. 87.

61 Jan-Erik Nilsson, Gotheborg [online] [accessed 12 January 2020]

62 Audrey Yoshiko Seo, Ensō: Zen Circles of Enlightenment, (Colorado: Shambhala Publications, 2007), p. xii.

63 Jung, Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and Practice, p. 60.

64 Jung, Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and Practice, p. 60.

65 Kate Gordon, Esthetics, (New York City: H. Holt, 1909), p. 169.

66 Christopher Barona and Paul Silvia, ‘Do people prefer curved objects? Angularity, expertise, and aesthetic preference’.

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67 K. Hevner, ‘Experimental studies of the affective value of colours and lines', Journal of Applied Psychology, Volume 19, Issue 4, (1935) p. 385-398, (p. 398).

68 Jill Butler, Kritina Holden, and William Lidwell, Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make BetterDesign Decisions, and Teach Throughout Design, (Massachusetts: Rockport Publishers, 2010), p. 62.

Understanding the circle as a prominent and reoccurring shape throughout human history has been an interesting challenge. With research into the Neolithic age, modern art, Buddhism, American Indian communities, and development of children, it can be seen that the circle is never confined to one age in human history, one location, or one person. Its infiltration into every life concludes that there is no control of where or what the circle means, it simply exists, used to relate to our environment, to ourselves, and to each other. The research throughout the dissertation indicates that the circle never has one meaning, or one reasoning, so to try and evaluate the reason it is so prominent throughout human history is difficult. American Indian communities use the circle as a shape and a symbol, but also a way of life and a way of thinking. We can use it to change our method of education so we can learn holistically rather than linearly. Benefits allowing the whole brain to engage in a subject and the learners developing a better understanding of themselves and their environments. Plato’s argument has allowed for insight to conclude that the form and idea of the circle is innate, underlying a basis of experience that forms an understanding of the world. In respect to stone circles, they can be argued as a tool for comprehending the world and the cosmos as well as forming community and recognition.

This can also be seen in modern and contemporary art, the circle creating a emotive experience for creator and viewer. The study in to different artworks established an understanding of the reason humans are still replicating circles to this day; the circle is ever-present in the world of art and the world in which we create. As Lippard suggested, art has social significance and a social function, and by the use of circles in art the human attraction to the circle is perpetually encouraged. From the study into why children draw circles at the beginning of their life, it was discovered that it assists development of the brain. Due to the fact that every human develops through this stage, it is believed to be our neuropsychological inheritance of humankind, stated by Jung. The circle lives in each of us, and therefore provides reason to the human attraction to the circle. This is further supported by the scientific research into human preference over curved and straight lines, the circle and the square, which discovered we do have a preference, the circle is no random symbol with meaning to only one person. The circle has been a dominant part of our environment, not only in the rings of trees, the wheel of a bike, the eyes of a human, but also the environment of our planet as it orbits a circle of light in the sky. It should not be forgotten humans are innately linked with their environment and through the metaphor of the circle to represent the cosmos and ourselves, we are finally understood.

I am connected to the circle. I find it lives in me, around me, and in every human I meet. I found the cup and ring marks in Kilmartin Glen in March 2019 and from there it began. I became fascinated and obsessed with the circle. When beginning initial research into this subject, I didn’t know where the circle would lead me. It brought me comfort knowing that it meant something to humans before me and now it brings me comfort knowing it will mean something to those in the future. I have never been this intrigued into something so apparently specific. However I have come to discover the circle is not apparent at all. It is deeply profound and can be used as a metaphor for a multitude of subjects. The circle was the first form. It has provided experience for every human who existed. It will continue on an infinite lifespan; its exact nature is to be infinite.

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© Jess Hay
artist based in Glasgow