Thursday, 26 February 2015

What Promotes Your Art?

As my readers know already, I have been interpreting (or attempting to) Tao Te Ching verses, applied to artists. I am a Sumi-e artist and I find these verses complement the Sumi-e way of creating, that is working with the opposite forces (yin and yang) and constantly trying to find a harmonious balance. I aim to apply these teachings not only to Sumi-e, but to my drawings and life as well.

A couple of weeks ago I worked with chapter 24.  Here, Lao Tzu, the author, advises against boasting, self exaltation and self praise.

This is a touchy topic among artists. Obviously, not everybody feels comfortable self-promoting, but it has to be done in this internet media world, so that our work can be seen. Besides, that is why we create, don't we; to share our experiences with public?

Artists are more in tune with their true selves (one can call it soul universe, or whatever else), because they are there when they create. Artists feel some friction inside when they are not true to themselves. Which artist really feels secure about their creation? That is what makes us constantly strive to do better to  improve our language of artistic expression. So how can an artist feel good announcing themselves to be “ world renowned”, “internationally acclaimed”... or “talented”, no matter how true that may be?  Needless to say, there was a lot of reaction when I posted it on Linked In, Visual Artists, and their Advocates group. 

My point was that our quality artwork and content, (granted, exposed via many social media sites) should do the promoting for artists and not self- aggrandizement. As Lao Tzu teaches, we should constantly strive to find the balance not only in our art, but in our actions as well.

Feel free to read the discussion: Some insightful, some defensive...... comments.

One comment that I received through email, had a great impact on me. Obviously this was coming from a man with incredible depth and refinement. I would like to share it with you, hoping that you can take home some of his wisdom  as well;

…..What do I think about self promotion?..........?
I have read several of the blog spots written by Lilith Ohan, who often illustrates verses from Lao Tzu and the iChing in them. 
It is most interesting to note the paucity of public comment replying to  the questions she poses, most of which wrestle with various aspects of searching for essential creativity, without personal aggrandizement. 
This appears not to be something that interests those who find her thoughts worthy of comment. 
They ARE worthy of comment. 
The attractiveness of the Tao is, I believe, just this:

-If you have no creativity you cannot understand that all creativity is a social act that requires a degree of promotion, before it can have an effect on society. 
Creativity cannot function without understanding by the audience to be affected by it. One might say, that only when it does achieve public recognition, can the value of creativity be recognized. 
The value of creativity does certainly depend of the ability of the creator, but once created and promoted so that it's value is understood, true creation takes on a life of its own. 
Poor creations, no matter how strongly promoted, will be soon forgotten. 
Those that are relevant, will flourish when their creators are forgotten. Who invented the wheel?
Has anyone matched the genius of Leonardo da Vinci since his death, or has there been anyone to create more meaning out of less line, than Zeshin in Japan, or Ni Zan in China?
-in my view, the problem arises that any creator must ensure that his creation receives recognition. Others may accomplish this task for her or for him. 
In art this function is often, but not always, done by dealers. Sometimes great art is not recognized by the public until the creator is dead. 
-a creator is someone who must seek to perfect their creations, and often this takes personal dedication, sacrifice, and the nurturing of ego, if they are to succeed in producing a creation of value. 
Where is the balance that can maintain a personal simplicity in the simultaneous chaos required by their creativity? 
The one seems incompatible with the other, unless through the Tao, one can understand and practice the division of internal simplicity from external complexity. 
-I have noticed that those who are able to do so are often helped by a sense of humor...

I think as artists and as humans we have to constantly strive to find the right balance in this infinite chaos.....

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Remaining Centred "Tao Te Ching" verse 26 for Artists

Chapter 26
Heaviness is the root of lightness
Quietness is the master of restlessness
Therefore the sages travel an entire day
Without leaving the heavy supplies
Even though there are luxurious sights
They are composed and transcend beyond
How can the lords of ten thousand chariots
Apply themselves lightly to the world?
To be light is to lose one's root
To be restless is to lose one's mastery

By now we have understood or maybe are starting to, to see Lao Tzu's view of the unity and interdependence the opposites in life.

Long and short reveal each other
  High and low support each other...” Verse 2

Goodness and evil
  How much do they differ?” Verse 20

And here;

Heaviness is the root of lightness
 Quietness is the master of restlessness...”

 Life flows through the play of opposites; ups and downs, blacks and whites.... yin and yang. So how do we become and keep centered/grounded in the world, with all of these distractions, when the mind gets cluttered with all of this  information.?.... How does one keep his/her self awareness? As for artist, how can he/she create successfully and not get lost in the activities of social media , gallery and of course, everyday life's demands.

If maintaining the balance was an effort 26 centuries ago, it is now, more than ever, imperative to follow Lao Tzu's advice. He advises us to remain grounded, to be aware of who (not by title or stories) we are, despite all of the activities and excitements that come our way. In practical terms, to find the quiet, the stillness inside....and remain centered.

It is inevitable that one is distracted by all of the activity (in fact it is part of living), but we have to constantly find that place and come back to it; come back to ourselves. Lao Tzu points out that you cannot be a master of your outer world if you cannot master your inner world.... the greatest mastery, is the mastery of self...

For the artists, and all of the artists at heart, (that is everyone else), the answer is, to create, to be in the present, while noticing the excitements, the wondering, and the playfulness of the mind.

Sumi-e, in particular is a very practical way of achieving this, as its aim is to balance the opposing energies; contrast and harmony and to achieve this the artist has to keep complete awareness of the connection with the Chi; the life force of the subject matter and him/herself.

I think this is a very appropriate place and time to mention the coming of the Chinese New Year: the year of the Sheep. The Sheep/ Ram symbolizes choice and power. We do have the power and the choice to remain on the path, and we have Lao Tzu's teachings to guide us throughout this lunar year and beyond.
Happy New Year of the Sheep!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sumi-e of Life....Love

There is Love in the air....As Valentine's day is approaching, I thought I would write about Love. There is only one word for Love in  English, but there are many different forms of it. I am writing about the one,  all encompassing,  Universal Love.

My last blog post ( Tao Te Ching, verse 25) was about Lao Tzu's admiration of Tao...the recognition of its greatness. Tao is a concept that is very difficult to understand logically. One can only get little insights into the nature of it. At this point in  my learning Tao,  through Tao Te Ching and life, or learning Life, through Tao, I seem to agree with the view, that it is a force that flows through all life. It is in harmony with  Nature and is the source of everything in the Universe.....what a better way of describing Love!

We are aware of this Love when we are walking in nature, when we are quiet within, detached from constant mind chatter, .....and of course, when we create.

I think all so called “negative” emotions, are the result of loss, separation from this Universal harmony.  All feelings are a part of life, but the awareness of this disharmony can help us to reconnect and realign ourselves.... find the Love from  within and without.

Sumi-e ( Japanese brush painting) in particular, is a form of the artist's self expression, with deep appreciation for the oneness of self and the world around. It is the understanding that everything is the expression of that Universal Love, camouflaged by its unique physical appearances. The mastery of the Sumi-e artist, is the ability to recreate this coexistence of completely different energies (physical and metaphysical) within the subject matter..... bringing out the essence of it.

I think Love is the meaning and the core of life. We are in this world to experience and play with its different manifestations.

Happy Valentine's day!

You are welcome to my  Sumi-e gallery.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Greatness of Everything "Tao Te Ching" verse 25 for Artists

Verse 25*
There is something formlessly created
Born before Heaven and Earth
So silent! So ethereal!
Independent and changeless
Circulating and ceaseless
It can be regarded as the mother of the world
I do not know its name
Identifying it, I call it "Tao"
Forced to describe it, I call it great
Great means passing
Passing means receding
Receding means returning
Therefore the Tao is great
Heaven is great
Earth is great
The sovereign is also great
There are four greats in the universe
And the sovereign occupies one of them
Humans follow the laws of Earth
Earth follows the laws of Heaven
Heaven follows the laws of Tao
Tao follows the laws of nature

This verse,  I find is the author's total admiration and affirmation of the “mysterious”, the greatness of Tao. As I advance slowly through interpreting Tao Te Ching verses, I start getting glimpses of the  understanding of Tao. Words and mind are indeed limiting.....

In the first part of this verse, the author seems to be showing the birth of the Earth... the existence. As words have no way of describing this, the author names it Tao and bows in front of this inexpressible greatness, realizing that everything within is perfect .

We go through life running after our goals, thoughts and judgements.... emotional ups and downs. We tend to think that life is just that; the desires and experiences we are going through. We tend to forget or ignore the most essential, that behind  life's chatter, everything is perfect, in harmony and flawless. As a matter of fact, the chatter itself is the part of that perfection .... just like the ripples of the water on the ocean's surface.

As I am looking at this verse through the artist's heart/mind, once again I am seeing that in order to create (anything), one has to transcend the superficial, see the perfection of self and the surrounding world and through one's artwork show that greatness... the mysterious Universe....
I am a Sumi-e artist. The aim of Sumi-e painting is to rather than reproducing the appearance of the subject, to capture the soul, the spirit of it..... to see it's perfection...

How often are we aware of the greatness within and without? Maybe the answer is; “As often as we create”. Then, can we bring that awareness into our everyday lives?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Sumi-e of Life..... Balance

In my weekly blog posts, I have been alternating between analyzing Tao Te Ching, verse by verse from the artist's point of view and my thoughts on Sumi-e painting, teaching and artistic views. As the time passes, I am finding that the spirit of both getting closer.... philosophies merging.

From Tao Te Ching teachings I am understanding, more and more experientially, the dual nature of things; that everything in the universe contains two opposite yet mutually affirming forces; yin and yang, black and white, ugly and beautiful..... life and death. I am also realizing that the art of living is in finding balance between those in my everyday and creative life. As this understanding and practice deepens, the mind gets quiet, and serene. So is it possible to write or create something that would engage the audience/reader from that neutral place?

I think that if all the statements were coming from the equilibrium, then there would be noting much to say. Nothing is good or bad, black or white.... everything is just as....

Most of the so called “interesting” ideas that the mind likes getting engaged in, are the ones where the emphasis is put to one side or the other, on exaggerations, creating some kind of imbalance and thus challenging the mind. In my life and posts as well, I try to notice, emphasize one aspect of the topic/event, yet question it. Through this challenge, I find the answers....the balance within. I hope to achieve this with my audiences as well.

This applies to painting and not only to sumi-e style. The mastery of creating successful art is with means of contrasts in expression, colour ....and space, to create a harmonious image.

This is the game of living and if we play it right, through the ups and downs, rights and wrongs, we can create a harmonious life.

Do you exaggerate to make a point? And do you realize that the total opposite of that point has equal merit?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Self Promotion "Tao Te Ching" verse 24 for Artists

Verse 24
Those who are on tiptoes cannot stand
Those who straddle cannot walk
Those who flaunt themselves are not clear
Those who presume themselves are not distinguished
Those who praise themselves have no merit
Those who boast about themselves do not last
Those with the Tao call such things leftover food or tumors
They despise them
Thus, those who possesses the Tao do not engage in them

Analyzing this verse is a challenge for me, not the understanding of it. It is quite straight forward.... but easy? Just like meditation, the Tao, the Natural Way, sounds indeed simple; very natural, but applying it is  challenging, as it is a state, where the ego (the self) has no place.

In this Internet driven world, where boasting and self promotion is a common place, how can an artist remain genuine? We know very well and we have been taught as children the “right” and “wrong” behaviours. We are taught to be patient, modest, considerate and humble. We know all this, but do we practice it?

Modern life, including the structure of the social media, is based on self promotion. Google's definition of it is; “the action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one's activities, especially in a forceful way”....That doesn't sound natural and not what we know as proper. From my experience, the boasting, self promoting artist's recognition doesn't last long... I am sure you have observed this as well.

If there is anything that should speak for us, it is one's art. As a matter of fact, it is the quality of our art that should do the promoting. This way we can keep one's honour and integrity. The result of this behaviour, I believe, will outlast everything else.

We do have to make a point to consult texts like this. They help us notice our ego driven actions and bring us back to our true selves.... they keep us on our toes :)

All of my sumi-e paintings and classes are inspired by Tao and Zen philosophies.... please visit  them... and leave comments if you wish.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Computer Sumi-e, or Can Love Be Programmed?

The computers are integral part of our lives in practically all facets. And now, when more and more imagery is being produced by them, should we consider them as Art? I am an artist, who aims to work mainly by using nature's contrasting forces  (yin and yang) to create a balanced and harmonious work, through my sumi-e paintings or drawings. I often wonder if the computers can produce images with the intricate aesthetic expression, that it is expected from a fine artwork . Could a  computer create....... a sumi-e painting?

It brings us back to trying to define Art, something that I don't believe can be truly done. Maybe it is possible to give some description, or a thoughts towards a way of understanding it, but truly defining it?...

One would need to understand what contributes to creating art maybe. We have to realize that if there were no humans, then there would  be no art. It is the humans that consider/label anything as Art, no matter how, or by whom it is created, including the computer generated images. That sense of aesthetics is unique only to us, humans.

I think that the computer is another tool for an artist's expression, like a brush or a canvas. There is always a human/programmer behind the computer, feeding it with some parameters, to comply with human sensibilities. Besides, computers are made by using the brain as a model. There is more to being human though, than the brain, don't you agree?

I believe that art appreciation comes from somewhere beyond the mind. The more we try to use our logic in understanding it, the more we lose it. There is an ingredient in being human that is beyond rational, therefore beyond the computers, and it is that ingredient that decides what Art and for that matter... Love is...

Can Love be programmed?....
Well, this is one way of looking at it. In my next post, I will try to see from the opposite side...After all, I must have learned something from Tao Te Ching :)