Jizis Reflections on Art
Acknowledging that the highest realm of art exists is acknowledging that the highest principle of the universe exists. To deny this principle exists or to turn your back on this principle does not bring happiness to mankind but disaster. By means of artwork, an artist inspires and purifies people. An artist grasps the spirit of the existence of this principle of the universe, and then artistically expresses this spirit of the universe.
Artistic realms have levels. Different levels of artistic realms reveal the different levels of an artists philosophical thinking. Different levels of philosophical thinking are expressed as the artists different artistic levels.
Artists are not the saviors of the world. They merely inspire people by upholding the spiritual nature that the universe has conferred on them. Mankind wants to free itself from the predicament it has created, but also wants to be self-reliant. Artists are also people, and they also find themselves in the human predicament.
Before artists can inspire and arouse people, they must first inspire and arouse themselves; they must become people whose spirits are purified. For these reasons, artists must be people who possess a high degree of awareness of the universe. At the least, they must be people who have extricated one foot from the morass that mankind has made.
Artists philosophical thinking relies on artworks for expression. After a long period of practice and exploration, artists are also able to use a written vocabulary to summarize theories of a certain academic value. These theories are not those passed from one book to another, but rather they are a summarization of repeatedly thinking about experiences that go from practice to theory, and then from theory to practice. For this reason, if we compare the theories of artists and the theories of theorists, the artists theories are more practical but, in their linguistic ordering and logical aspects, however, the artistss theories are inferior, but their theories dazzle with far more artistic thinking.
In researching an artists achievements, we primarily depend on the artists artworks, but we should not forget the course of the artists life and the artists speeches and writings as these speeches and writings are a more direct statement of an artists thinking.
Acknowledging the existence of the universes highest principle is not the same as religious belief or worship, but it does have a religious sentiment.
The harmonious unification of subject and object is just the unity of man and Heaven. This is really what is meant by the mountains and streams and I had a meeting of the minds and I turned them into art (Shi Tao).* An artist who just reproduces the object is the slave of nature, and is a person being transformed by scenery. An artist who uses the subjective to demonstrate the objective is a master of nature, and is a person who transforms a scene. This is an artist who gives birth to the mountains and streams (Shi Tao).**
* The quote is from Chapter Eight, the Chapter on Mountains and Streams, in Shi Taos Quotations on Art. The original Chinese is: shan chuan yu yu shen yu er ji hua ye.
** Ibid. The original Chinese is: shan chuan tuo tai yu yu.
* For more information on these Buddhist terms, Cf. Soothill and Hodous, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, various editions and reprints.
** Wu, non being, is a concept developed by Lao Zi in the Daode Jing.
Assimilate the subjective spirit and the spirt of the universe (the ontological spirit); from this you will obtain the truth* about the universe -- human life -- art. The composition of the artistic image implies the truth, goodness, and beauty of the spirit of the universe. That is, it implies that the artists mind is self-purified, and that the artist has completed an intrinsic combination of factors that allow him to evaluate the cultivation of his character. At the same time, the composition of the artistic image expresses the spiritual awakening of the artist to the life of the universe, and embodies the profound accordance between the inner life of the artist and the spirit of the universe.
* The term translated as truth is zhendi, a Buddhist term that is the truth of a sage or person of insight in contrast to sudi, the common truth of those who know appearance but not reality.
An artist must complete cultivating his character, as only then can the artist achieve a profound unity with truth, the good, and the beautiful. His artworks will then inevitably reveal an artistic realm where the artists own spirit and the spirit of the universe are in mutually harmony and mutual purity. This artistic realm is not merely the artists creative state of mind, but more importantly the visual sensations of the artworks in this realm express the materialization of the Tao.
Mr. Li Keran (1907-1989), has said: An artist must use the greatest determination to break into traditional art, and then use the greatest determination to break out. This is so, but I also feel, however, that an artist must rationally break into traditional art, and then rationally break out. The reason that so many artists break into traditional art but so few break out is that they lack rationality, or that their rationality is irrational.
With respect to knowing the natural spirit of the universe, the dynamism that effectively launches an artists subjective spirit also transforms the lines of these two spirits into one mainline. The whole spirit of this singular transformation is expressed by means of the intuitive visual vocabulary of the artists art. This is just the artistic realm of the artworks.
With respect to knowing the spirit of the universe, this spirit does not have an appearance but rather, by means of the existing exemplar of the appearances of things, allows the artist to understand inner truth, goodness, and beauty. This has been described as: great wisdom is like stupidity,* great images have no forms, great beauty is unadorned, and great music uses sound sparingly.
The realm that integrates truth, goodness, and beauty must be expressed in the artworks visual forms, and this is truly difficult. Our artistic predecessors embodied the eternal existence of this spirit of the universe through their own personal experiences, but this spirit was definitely not expressed in their artworks visual forms. Todays artists, however, want to express this spirit but the traditional artistic vocabulary has limits, making necessary a creative leap with regards to the qualitative scope of artistic vocabulary.
This type of creativity is not just manna from Heaven, but rather is an integration of our absorbing and mixing the artistic inheritance from the past, the present, and from China and abroad so that it expresses that Great Pristine that arose from the chaos of the primeval state of the universe. In primeval times, there was no artistic method because the Great Pristine had not broken loose from chaos. But as soon as the Great Pristine broke away from the primeval chaos, artistic method became established. How did artistic method become established? It became established as the uniqueness of painting. (Shi Tao)** This uniqueness of painting, from a conceptual standpoint, must be established by the artist himself.
* The saying: Great wisdom is like stupidity originated with the Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo.
** This quote constitutes the opening lines of Shi Taos Quotations on Art. My translation follows Wu Guanzhongs explication in his Wo kan Shi Tao Hua Yulu. The Great Pristine (tai pu) is another expression for the Tao. The Chinese for the uniqueness of painting is yi hua and, as Wu Guanzhong notes, this expression has a wide variety of interpretations. I follow Wus explanation that the uniqueness of painting is simply the artists own, unique experiences. Yi being understood to mean unique (weiyi).
Be an artist with theories, not a theoretical artist. Be a philosophic artist, rather than a poetic artist.
The Tao of Ink Landscapes are in essence experiencing for oneself the complete process of transforming the spirit of Chinese philosophy into the spirit of Chinese art.
The Tao of Ink Landscapes are patterns of activity for an awareness of the Tao, and of course they must be subject to careful observation as the spirit of the Tao. Awareness of the Tao then is just an awareness of the spirit of the Tao in the natural universe. Speaking from a certain perspective, the Tao of Ink paintings possess a cosmological significance because they play a further unique role as an exploration of the natural universe, a role expressed via an artistic mode.
The natural images of the universe in the Tao of Ink Landscapes imply making visible my sentiments purified; that is to say, the organic content of the cultivation of my character. These are not only sentiments projected onto nature, but also sentiments that combine my inner life and the spirit of the universe. They embody my cosmological view of nature.
The nobility in purifying ones character is that it takes one to a realm where the self and the spirit of the universe are in mutual harmony and mutual purity. This kind of artistic realm is the aesthetic realm of the Tao of Ink Landscapes. It is also my aesthetic awareness of landscape painting.
If one wants to appreciate and intuit the existence of the spirit of the universe, this is not difficult to do. This spirit has no form and no image and cannot be seen; it is intangible and cannot be touched; it is not a thing that exists independently. Rather, this spirit exists by attaching itself to the images that you create, where it embraces the spirit of truth, goodness, and beauty. This spirit assimilates as one with your essential spirit becoming an intrinsic consubstantial spirit.* Use this consubstantial spirt to cope with things and events, and use this consubstantial spirit to depict your landscapes.**
* The term translated as Consubstantial spirit is tongti jingshen.
** Landscapes here repeats the two words for mountains (shan) and waters (shui) that make up the Chinese word for landscapes (shan shui) so that the author is literally saying to depict your mountains and waters.
Translator: E. F. Connelly, PhD