Learning From the Masters “Tao Te Ching” verse 15 for Artists

Learning From the Masters blog article illustration of dragon painted in black ink sumi-e style.

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.  

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