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” "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....

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!

* Translation by Derek Lin