Gurdjieff at Taliesin

Gurdjieff International Review reprinted an article that Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in 1934 for the Capital Times then (and still) a newspaper for Madison, Wisconsin. The article, published on August 26, is essentially a panegyric to George Gurdjieff, a wandering mystic and teacher wildly popular in the first half of the 20th Century. Wright’s wife, Olgivanna, had been a student of Gurdjieff’s before she met Wright, and remained a follower throughout her life. Through the influence of Oligivanna, the initial conception of the Taliesin Fellowship drew from the teachings of Gurdjieff, though Wright, an admirer of Gurdjieff, was never a formal student of the mystic. (Though don’t read too much into the Gurdieff association — the Lloyd-Jones family, as Unitarians, had their own mystical bent and Taliesin its own tradition of progressive education predating the arrival of Olgivanna).

In 1974, Robert Twombly wrote an article (available on-line) on Gurdjieff, Wright and the Fellowship for the Wisconsin Magazine of History, “Organic Living: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship and Georgi Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man”. The article has a fairly detailed account of the relationship between Gurdjieff and Wright.

Gurdjeef at Taliesin

By Frank Lloyd Wright



Real men who are real forces for an organic culture of the individual today are rare. I venture to say one might count them on the fingers of one hand with the thumb to spare—unless the thumb were to go to George Gurdjeef of the Prieuré at Fontainebleau, France, and spare the little finger.



Only One



There is only one Gurdjeef. His career is as unique as is the man himself. Rarely going out of his way to visit anyone during his brief stay in the United States, he honored us at Taliesin by coming out from Chicago to stay 24 hours with the Fellowship. He is a Greek who has roamed about Asia and western Europe in search of the temple rituals of oriental culture. He has from this data by way of the genius that is his, developed new rhythms in the dance and new music so designed as to integrate the human faculties and prepare the man for a more harmonious development than any we can show by way of our current ideas of education.



In his sardonic fashion, with his tongue in his cheek a good deal of the time, he has crystallized his philosophy in nine fat volumes and has in manuscript form, as yet unpublished, some 8000 pieces of music of such quality that undoubtedly when he permits their publication, he will be best known as the author of a new school of “objective” music; that is to say, music that does not mean one thing to one man and another thing to another man but music so crystal clear and simply related to human feeling that all men will weep or smile or dance as the music itself does. And when one of our young men played from the Gurdjeef manuscripts 25 or 30 of his compositions this seems to be true. A prayer, a solemn dance, a gayety—all were emotionally true and organically beautiful.



Three Classes



His writing is to be had by translation only and so his involved oriental style comes out in some confusion but no humbleness. The thought is there, however, addressed to “idiots” by way of Beelzebub. Beelzebub has his fun with the idiots. Gurdjeef, declaring all mankind idiots, divides them into three classes—those who take what they can get; those who get what they can take; those who get what they get.



There is enormous ego in this man. Always deliberate in movement, not large although he seems so—with the skull bald and tall behind—forceful humorous luminous eyes. In him we see a massive sense of his own individual worth. A man able to reject most of the so-called culture of our period and set up more simple and organic standards of personal worth and courageously, if outrageously, live up to them. He affected us strangely as though some oriental buddha had come alive in our midst. With perfect unconsciousness of self he would deliberately walk to the piano and adjust his glasses to correct the player. Or, his bulk seated at ease in his chair, he smiled about him when his readings were read, watching the different faces and recognizing the feelings behind the various expressions.



Nothing Escapes Him



A kind, solid, fatherly man. All that went on about him seemed to impress him little and yet he would later give evidence that nothing escaped him, so highly are his powers of observation and concentration developed. He would appraise a character in a remark. He has rejected them and perhaps the personality of Gurdjeef is somewhat similar to that of Gandhi only, of course, more robust, aggressive and venturesome in nature. Now a man of perhaps 85 looking 55, he has some 40,000 “followers”—he will not call them students or disciples—has 104 sons of his own and 27 daughters for all of whose education he has made provision and to which he has given his attention.



He rather impressed me as being something of a Walt Whitman in Oriental terms, which neither describes nor explains him. He is an interesting study in himself, defying such analogy. He would resent such study and in no uncertain terms would put the observer back into his proper place.



Knowledge Seems Perfect



His knowledge of human nature and all its foibles seems perfect, and he does not hesitate to use this knowledge for his own ends although with a conscience that sees to it that they get something worth while out of his meeting them. Not caring at all for America or Americans, he has come over here, as he frankly put it, “to shear the sheep.” He will turn the wool into some kind of good work for humanity. His hypnotic powers have served him well in this connection, but he is more careful now in exercising them. American fruits and foods he finds unfit to eat—likes only our tomato juice and our dollars. But eats enormously just the same. The style of our money he approves. But the shearing I imagine is not so good. The wool is now so short. Notwithstanding a superabundance of personal idiosyncrasy, George Gurdjeef seems to have the stuff in him of which our genuine prophets have been made. And when prejudice against him has cleared away, his vision of truth will be recognized as fundamental to the man men need.