Friday, 12 September 2014

Learning From the Masters "Tao Te Ching" verse 15 for Artists



Verse 15
The Tao masters of antiquity
Subtle wonders through mystery
Depths that cannot be discerned
Because one cannot discern them
Therefore one is forced to describe the appearance
Hesitant, like crossing a wintry river
Cautious, like fearing four neighbors
Solemn, like a guest
Loose, like ice about to melt
Genuine, like plain wood
Open, like a valley
Opaque, like muddy water
Who can be muddled yet desist
In stillness gradually become clear?
Who can be serene yet persist
In motion gradually come alive?
One who holds this Tao does not wish to be overfilled
Because one is not overfilled
Therefore one can preserve and not create anew

In this verse Lao Tzu is showing respect to the old masters. For many centuries, masters have been respected, learned from and considered to be more valuable. The emerging artists would, study trying to understand the master's way of working, their technique, their wisdom and their connection to the period they lived and created in. Student's would copy the master's work to get better understanding, in a way to connect to, or feel the master's spirit. In Oriental art, the closer, more resemblance to the original, the copy was to the original, higher it was praised.

In the west and now in the east as well, this seem to apply less and less. Rather than basing their work on the skilful knowledge/understanding of the masters, the new artist attempts to jump into creating “original” work, very often without basic skills, relying more on the effect, rather than depth.

Maybe one of the reasons is the Internet, which provides is information, rather than personal experience. It is through the experience that the real knowledge is acquired, it is with patience one learns to live in harmony with the surrounding...the natural way...the Tao.

I see this in my Sumi-e classes in my surroundings as well as in my children....

There must also be positive sides to this......I have to think about it......need your opinion.

  * I am using  Translation by Derek Lin as examples of verses, but there are many different translations with different nuances and sensibilities of the translators.  

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Breathing Brush



Here I am in front of my students, teaching Sumi-e painting. They are attentively looking at me with their brush in their hands. I explain to them how to hold it, how to feel that brush as part of their body, how to feel the breath down into their belly ( dantian, hara) and how to feel the brush breathing with them... The mind needs more....the mind needs to understand ….how can the brush breathe?

Do we really need to understand this? I only know that if we trust that it does, we together with that breathing brush will create a painting, a statement that has a breath of it's own.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Tao Te Ching for Artists INDEX

To facilitate the access, I am creating this  page of links to my interpretations of Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching" through my heart/mind (verse by verse), geared towards the artist, towards creating ....But aren't we all Artists....isn't Creating what life is all about?

So far I have  interpreted 14 verses, but as I time passes and I publish the following ones (there are 81 verses), I will be visiting back to this page and adding the new links. The link to this page is in the sidebar, in Past Blogs Index  box.

So here are the links;

Introductory Tao Te Ching Blog

"No Name"  Tao Te Ching,  verse 1 for Artists

"Opposites Create Each Other" Tao Te Ching, verse 2 for Artists 

Non Action "Tao Te Ching" verse 3 for Artists

The Void "Tao Te Ching" verse 4 For Artists

Never Exhausting Emptiness "Tao Te Ching" verse 5 For Artists

The Creative Source "Tao Te Ching" verse 6 for Artists

To Create Selflessly "Tao Te Ching" verse 7 for Artists

Flow Like Water "Tao Te Ching" verse 8 for Artists

Moderation "Tao Te Ching" verse 9 for Artists

Is It Possible? "Tao Te Ching" verse 10 for Artists

The Empty Space "Tao Te Ching" verse 11 for Artists

Less Is More "Tao Te Ching" verse 12 for Artists

Success or Disgrace? Tao Te Ching verse 13 for Artists

Admiration of the Profound "Tao Te Ching" verse 14 for Artists

Friday, 29 August 2014

Admiration of the Profound "Tao Te Ching" verse 14 for Artists


Verse 14*
Look at it, it cannot be seen
It is called colorless
Listen to it, it cannot be heard
It is called noiseless
Reach for it, it cannot be held
It is called formless
These three cannot be completely unraveled
So they are combined into one
Above it, not bright
Below it, not dark
Continuing endlessly, cannot be named
It returns back into nothingness
Thus it is called the form of the formless
The image of the imageless
This is called enigmatic
Confront it, its front cannot be seen
Follow it, its back cannot be seen
Wield the Tao of the ancients
To manage the existence of today
One can know the ancient beginning
It is called the Tao Axiom

This is a beautiful verse. Lao Tzu's very poetic admiration of what Tao (The Way) is.

As for the artist, before we start an artwork, it is invisible, has no sound, colour or form. All these qualities are there to manifest and can't be separated or measured, though they can feel  the same. We have  access to the whole universe with it's limitless textures, sensibilities and qualities, names for which haven't been created , but just felt.

When we create, as we get wrapped up with the details, explanations, ideas and images, we lose the touch of this vast source. It is the limitless source of everything there is or has ever been, with it's natural eternal laws. For us, to access these spaces is to just let go and dance  with the brush (or whatever the tool of the creation is) in our hands. We are to respect the natural law of Tao (The Way), by not resisting, fighting what comes naturally, freeing the mind, feeling the present moment and creating artwork (order) out of this seemingly chaotic eternal tapestry of life.

For me, as a sumi-e artist, I dance, sing, and connect with that magical place....the place where I came from.

And you? 


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Success or Disgrace? Tao Te Ching verse 13 for Artists




Verse 13*
Favor and disgrace make one fearful
The greatest misfortune is the self
What does "favor and disgrace make one fearful" mean?
Favor is high; disgrace is low
Having it makes one fearful
Losing it makes one fearful
This is "favor and disgrace make one fearful"
What does "the greatest misfortune is the self" mean?
The reason I have great misfortune
Is that I have the self
If I have no self
What misfortune do I have?
So one who values the self as the world
Can be given the world
One who loves the self as the world
Can be entrusted with the world



This verse is very appropriate to the artist, as it can apply to how he/she is perceived by critics and the public. Is the artist considered to be successful, liked , and preferred by many, or is the artist's work being criticized or “disgraced”?

In both circumstances, pain is inevitable. Having it all, makes one worry about losing it, to question ones own abilities... No wonder so many famous artists are medicating themselves to ease the pain. Needless to say, how painful is it to be disrespected or have a bad reputation.

Interesting that Lao Tzu attributes this suffering to the ego, the “self”, as without it there would be no pain. The more dominated we are by that ego, the more vulnerable we become and the more prone we are to suffering.

The advice here again is to seek balance, to put as much importance to the quality of the creation as to one's recognition.

 * I am using  Translation by Derek Lin as examples of verses, but there are many different translations with different nuances and sensibilities of the translators. This is my today's interpretation....As time passes, as we change, the meaning changes.   Please leave  your own thoughts on this. 

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Less Is More "Tao Te Ching" verse 12 for Artists

Verse 12*

The five colors make one blind in the eyes
The five sounds make one deaf in the ears
The five flavors make one tasteless in the mouth
Racing and hunting make one wild in the heart
Goods that are difficult to acquire make one cause damage
Therefore the sages care for the stomach and not the eyes
That is why they discard the other and take this

This is another one of Lao Tzu's verses in Zen spirit. It leads us towards moderation. It guides us against complexity and excess, something very relevant to the modern world of excess which is reflected in art as well. 

The “Less is more” phrase seems to be particularly appropriate for this verse. The idea of it is very simple yet profound.  

Excessive colour use, excessive detail and description can create a chaotic experience for the viewer.

When creating,  recognizing how much is enough, and  knowing when to stop, is the real art. When just the right amount of information is said and shown,  the artist allows the viewer to have their own personal understanding/ relationship with the artwork.

“Therefore the sage” ( the wise artist) gets guided by the inner senses and not by outer appearances and distractions.

A perfect example of art created in this spirit is Sumi-e. It is an ancient form of brush painting technique, where the artist strives to give the maximum amount of information with the  least possible means.

* I am using  Translation by Derek Lin as examples of verses, but there are many different translations with different nuances and sensibilities of the translators.  

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Empty Space "Tao Te Ching" verse 11 for Artists



Verse 11*

Thirty spokes join in one hub
In its emptiness, there is the function of a vehicle
Mix clay to create a container
In its emptiness, there is the function of a container
Cut open doors and windows to create a room
In its emptiness, there is the function of a room

Therefore, that which exists is used to create benefit
That which is empty is used to create functionality


This verse is particularly appropriate to Zen way of painting (living and creating), where the emphasis is put on the nothingness, the emptiness. It is in the meditative state, where it's quiet within, where the mind is empty, that best art is created. 

Lao Tzu in this verse makes us reflect on the importance of nothingness that exists everywhere. That emptiness is the anchor, the source of all that there is, as without silence, there can't be sound, without stillness, there can't be action...  
The artwork is created on an empty space (canvas, paper, lump of clay). It is through that space that the artwork expresses itself.  

Shodo and Sumi-e style of art are the best manifestation of this verse. Both are based on Oriental calligraphy. Using calligraphic strokes, the elegant and harmonious line/image created with ink is expressive only because of the white paper that is left around it.

How often are we aware of that space within and without?......Your thoughts please.

* I am using  Translation by Derek Lin as examples of verses, but there are many different translations with different nuances and sensibilities of the translators.