Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Not Forcing "Tao Te Ching" verse 29 for Artists



Verse 29*
Those who wish to take the world and control it
I see that they cannot succeed
The world is a sacred instrument
One cannot control it
The one who controls it will fail
The one who grasps it will lose

Because all things:
Either lead or follow
Either blow hot or cold
Either have strength or weakness
Either have ownership or take by force

Therefore the sage:
Eliminates extremes
Eliminates excess
Eliminates arrogance


We have been raised with the notion that in order to achieve anything, to get anywhere, we have to take charge, take action. That's the reason why most of us feel as if we are carrying the world upon our shoulders.... So much effort is taken to accomplish things, and yet we never feel we are really there. We have lost touch with nature, the natural, the Tao. We (arrogantly) think that it is we who are in charge of everything..... pretty big shoes to fill :)

We are becoming more and more aware of the impact this has on our planet....

Life, in our minds, seems to be so chaotic, and we think we can control it. Lao Tzu's message here, is that the world around us including ourselves, is perfect and controlling it only makes things worse. Everything rises from the chaos, and regardless of us it is perfect.

For the artist, often in the discussions it comes up how much of a struggle and a hardship it is to create. Actually, some think it is a prerequisite for creating. But isn't it interesting how our best artwork happens when we let go of the control, when we just let it happen through us and not against us?

I think the way we experience the world around us and the way we create is a choice. After all, we are here to experience life and create (man is always creating; whether it be so called “art” or anything else). We are all different in our approach, but it is our choice which path we take. If we are wise, we will chose to go with and not against the current of Life: Tao.

In my personal experience... when I get that feeling of tension, this unpleasant tight sensation inside when I paint Sumi-e, draw.....or just go on with my day, I know that I am forcing something....coming off of the path. 

*Translation by Derek Lin 


 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sumi-e of Life.... The Game



I am playing the game of life.... better,  a role in the play called “Life”; with ups and downs, certainties and doubts, joys and sorrows.

Then, I
lay out the paper, prepare the ink, take the brush ...... the story  stops like having pushed the pause button.

I look at the subject matter, a flower let's say, that I am about to paint, what do I see?.... I see myself.... And I paint that self in a form of a flower.... I am the flower, or maybe the flower is me?..... I am home!.....

When my Sumi-e painting is done, I clean my brushes, wash the ink-stone, put everything back where it belongs. I go back to play my game, the role in the play called  “Life”..... with a feeling of having had a great encounter... 


Monday, 13 April 2015

Accept Yourself "Tao Te Ching" verse 28 for Artists






Verse 28*
Know the masculine, hold to the feminine
Be the watercourse of the world
Being the watercourse of the world
The eternal virtue does not depart
Return to the state of the infant
Know the white, hold to the black
Be the standard of the world
Being the standard of the world
The eternal virtue does not deviate
Return to the state of the boundless
Know the honor, hold to the humility
Be the valley of the world
Being the valley of the world
The eternal virtue shall be sufficient
Return to the state of plain wood
Plain wood splits, then becomes tools
The sages utilize them
And then become leaders
Thus the greater whole is undivided


I have started to write my interpretation of this verse few days ago and now that I am about to publish it, I question it. There is so much, much more in these verses then we can grasp. I think that is the reason why this texts are eternal. It is your state of mind that decides what we take out of it at the time of reading them.

This verse, like most of the verses, is about finding the right balance in already existing opposite forces in our surroundings and most importantly, ourselves. As much as we don't like to admit it, we carry within ourselves all human qualities, both the positive and negative ones. We do try to ignore and deny the negative in ourselves. The awareness and acceptance of them though, is the only way of giving more strength in the cultivating of the positive. I believe there is an expression coined for this unfavourable side; the shadow self. In order for us to understand ourselves well, and be complete, we have to face our shadow self... we have to allow our good and bad to surface. The more we put importance on one and suppress the other, the more it will rise. 

Isn't it obvious how this would apply to artists? As the art world is very competitive and the artists are striving to succeed, they tend to hide behind an image of success. The worth is based on how people perceive you and thus how you present yourself becomes very important. It is hard to stay balanced and really create genuinely ( the good art comes from being genuine) when one is hiding behind a partial self. Only when we honour and accept all the traits in ourselves, can we stay on the path of personal and artistic growth. 

Our task is to observe ourselves, realize our uniqueness, yet be part of the immense unlimited source... the Tao ….. and create from there.
   
In practical terms..... accept yourself unconditionally, and know that you are much more than what you think.

The painting above is Sumi-e in style. I invite you to visit my Sumi-e gallery.


Friday, 3 April 2015

Sumi-e of Easter



As  time passes, and I continue my interpretations of Tao Te Ching, more and more Tao is becoming part of my understanding of life. I also find that Sumi-e, being the main way of my artistic expression, is a perfect way of portraying Tao, which is indeed the infinite creative source.

As it is Easter time, it made me ponder as to where do the Eastern philosophies and art stand in this Christian holiday.

Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ, with the importance of it being the receiving of his teachings and his wisdom. I do find that these teachings are similar to Taoist and Buddhist teachings, thus universal. Like Taoist and Buddhist teachings, Christian teachings  help us see our place in the cosmos, live more with the awareness of the whole, be kind and compassionate to every living thing. When we understand and practice these teachings truly, as being (experientially), our consciousness deepens.... we understand the essence of life.

It is this understanding that comes out in art,  as an extension of the art of living. Especially in the Sumi-e way of seeing and painting , as its main preoccupation is to depict the essence; that great spiritual force of life.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Master or Student? "Tao Te Ching" verse 27 for Artists




Chapter 27*
Good travelling does not leave tracks
Good speech does not seek faults
Good reckoning does not use counters
Good closure needs no bar and yet cannot be opened
Good knot needs no rope and yet cannot be untied
Therefore sages often save others
And so do not abandon anyone
They often save things
And so do not abandon anything
This is called following enlightenment
Therefore the good person is the teacher of the bad person
The bad person is the resource of the good person
Those who do not value their teachers
And do not love their resources
Although intelligent, they are greatly confused
This is called the essential wonder

There is a lot to learn and apply in our life and art from this verse.

People tend to think that for someone to be good at something, they have to see the effort involved in it; will they be seeing the complex techniques applied, or the hardship of the artist. Actually it is the opposite.  

As a Tai Chi practitioner, I was always amazed to see how the moves of the true master is barely seen, but yet the power felt. It is the same with music. As my son is a pianist, I have watched how some of the audience seem to appreciate more the manoeuvres, the speed, or the physical involvement of the performer, where the true music is heard when one doesn't even notice the performer. This applies to Sumi-e painting as well....the  more effortless it looks, the more effective the painting is.

It is true, we have to strive to become masters in anything we do, but the most important thing is to understand that  mastery doesn't make us any different; better or worse from everything or anyone. 

Lao Tzu also advises  that one of the important skills to master, is teaching and learning as well.

“Therefore the good person is the teacher of the bad person......
The bad person is the resource of the good person....”

By “good and bad” Lao Tzu means more like complementary, the opposite and mutually affirming qualities of everything.

As the teacher is a resource, so is the student. I do find that I learn as much (if not more) as I teach in my Sumi-e classes. 

* Translation by Derek Lin 




Thursday, 12 March 2015

Living Sumi-e Life





I have created my first slide show of my Sumi-e paintings on YouTube. I intend to make more, and most likely, instructional videos. You are welcome to subscribe to my channel to get the updates. Enjoy!


There are many books/articles explaining the philosophical and practical aspects of this seemingly easy, but profound form of art. Sumi-e is based on creating a union between opposite forces; black and white, motion and stillness, vitality and restraint..... following the order of nature …. the Tao .

One can get overwhelmed by the complexity of everything around him/her and even the complex nature of oneself. Sumi-e crossed my path when I was searching for a simplicity and meaning in my overwhelming personal and artistic life. Prior to this, in my drawings and paintings, I was already trying to distil the essence of my subject. Sumi-e has opened my eyes and heart by teaching me to see deeper than what is perceived by eye and mind.


Sumi-e practice helped me develop concentration and patience and to get clarity in seeing beyond the physical. It has become an extension of my life. I have  realized that living a life by its principles, that is,  constantly finding and creating balance and harmony in life's opposing and often exaggerated energies, gives meaning to existence. In its simplicity, Sumi-e makes me experience the miraculousness of life.
 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Artistic Expression Shaped by Differences



This is a short post to announce to my readers  the publication of my guest article titled “Philosophical Differences: Eastern And Western Approaches To Making Art” ........in "Painter's Tongue”, a fine visual arts journal with an emphasis on philosophy and a focus on the artist's own words.

I have already approached this subject in my posts and as a matter of fact, practically all of my posts are about this; starting with posts on creating mindfully, to analyzing Lao Tzu's “Tao Te Ching” verses geared toward artists. This topic is very dear to me as it shapes my art and life. You can find the links to them in the sidebar.

By no means, is this topic as clear cut as I have made it sound. In order to understand the differences between those philosophies, slight exaggeration was in order. I talk about the need for this overstatement in one of my posts here

In word/language based communications, I find that the ideas are taken literally, so in my posts,  I try to approach the same concept from different angles, in an attempt to have the reader start to understand, better yet, sense the topic. Please do visit and leave your thoughts and insights on the individual posts if you wish. If you find my content appealing/intriguing, please do follow... there is so much more to explore....

My art, mainly in Sumi-e style and approach, regardless of the medium used, is inspired mainly by Eastern wisdom, yet influenced by my Western upbringing and schooling.

Neither of the two philosophies are perfect or inferior. They both have many appealing, as well as disagreeable (yin and yang) aspects to them.... I consider myself very fortunate having access for better inner understanding to both; Eastern and Western concepts of creating and living....