Zen in the arts and other stuff

Things are kind of falling into place for me, right now… Very turbulent and painful (I just corrected the word: I’ve wrote “paintful” , which, I suppose is kind of relevant psychanalitically…) times…My mother is sick (and 83) and other members of my family are given me (and them) hard times… But still, spring is coming, a squirel outside my window takes kangaroo poses, begging for food… and, somehow, I don’t feel as down as I should, normally, conventionally… I feel that all things, good and bad (so-called “good” and “bad” – our mania to label everything!) are part of a bigger thing (and I’m, too, a part of it…)

I go through my books – which is partially a bore but also a great pleasure! and finding things like Jack London‘s and Steinbeck‘s and Sebastien Japrisot‘s (recently I’ve inaugurated my credit card  buying Adio, l’ami, the movie they made after Japrisot’s original screenplay, with Alain Delon and Charles Bronson… they’ve called it in English “Honour Among Thieves”...)

And also my “spiritiual” books: Mircea Eliade (Yoga and Immortality), Deepak Chopra (The Return of Merlin) and YES! Allan Watts`s, The Spirit of Zen! One of the first books on Zen and buddhism I`ve been fascinated and enthriled by…

And I realised, reading, here and there, in the 4th chapter, Zen in the Arts, that not only is this a great book but that it influenced me A LOT. So, I’ve decided, for those of my eventual readers, to copy some of it on my blog. (I’ve no idea if this infringe (?) some of the copyright law’s and stuff… I have no legal mind and no money whatsoever to pay fines… I do it, anyway, just for the pleasure of it… Maybe someone too will discover this great book and these great ideas…)


ZEN IN THE ARTS by Allan Watts

(fragments of the 4th chapter of “The spirit of Zen”)

Happily, it is possible for us not only to hear about Zen but also to see it. Since “one showing is worth a thousand sayings”, the expression of zen in the arts gives us one of the most direct ways of understanding it. This is the more so because the art forms which Zen has created are not symbolic in the same way as other types of Buddhist art, or as is “religious” art as a whole. the favorite subjects of Zen artists, whether painters or poets, are what we should call natural, concrete, and secular things. Even when they turn to the Bouddha, or to the Patriarchs and masters of Zen, they depict them in a peculiarly down-to-earth and human way. Furthermore, the arts of Zen are not merely or primarily representational. Even in painting, the work of art is considered not only as representing nature but as being itself a work of nature. For the very technique involves the art of artlessness, or what Sabro Hasegawa has called the “controled accident”, so that paintings are formed as naturally as the rocks and the grasses which they depict.

This does not mean that the art forms of Zen are left to mere chance, as if one were to dip a snake in ink and left it wiggle around on a sheet of paper. the point is rather that for the Zen there is no duality, no conflict between the natural element of chance and the human element of control. The constructive power of the human mind are no more artificial than the formativ actions of plants or bees, so that from the standpoint of Zen it is no contradiction to say that artistic technique is discipline in spontaneity and spontaneity in discipline.

The art forms of the Western world arise from spiritual and philosophical traditions in which spirit is divided from nature, and comes down from heaven to work upon it as an inteligent energy upon an inert and recalcitrant stuff. Thus Malraux speaks always of the artist “conquering” his medium as our explorers and scientists also speak of conquering mountains or conquering space. To Chinese and Japanese ears these are grotesque expressions. For when you climb it is the mountain as much as your own legs which lifts you upwards, and when you paint it is the brush, ink, and paper which determine the result as much as your own hand.

Taoism, Confucianism, and Zen are expressions of a mentality which feels completely at home in this universe, and which sees man as an integral part of his environment. Human intelligence is not an imprisoned spirit from afar but an aspect of the whole intricately balanced organism of the natural world, whose principles were first explored in the Book of Changes.”  (to be continued, eventually…)


4 responses to “Zen in the arts and other stuff

  1. Pingback: Topics about Arts » Zen in the arts and other stuff « Van Gogh and I

  2. Danu

    Great post! I like the “freudian” slip with paintful! And the image of the squirrel as a kangaroo is delightful! Sorry to hear life is challenging you at the moment but glad to see you handling it with humor and philosophical perspective.

    I love this passage from Watts – such different ways of thinking about things in different cultures.

  3. Not as great as your posts, bob! Or that your recent paintings! I,ve started some but for the moment…and Yeah, Watts is a very interesting individual (and writer)…He has a vewry clear, simple manner to introduce you to stuff that sound extremely complicated to others…

  4. Greatings, ivdanu.wordpress.com to GoogleReader!

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