The Empty Space “Tao Te Ching” verse 4 For Artists

The Empty Space "Tao Te Ching" verse 4 For Artists sumi-e painting of two groundhogs.

Verse 4*

The Tao is empty
When utilized, it is not filled up
So deep! It seems to be the source of all things
It blunts the sharpness
Unravels the knots
Dims the glare
Mixes the dusts
So indistinct! It seems to exist
I do not know whose offspring it is
Its image is the predecessor of the Emperor
The artist’s blank canvas, an “uncarved block”, a sheet of white paper….all is often looked upon as an empty space. This emptiness is actually what every artwork comes from. It is the space of infinite possibilities, the space that is carrying the potential of unlimited possibilities, it is “the source of all things”, it is Tao, empty, yet full.
Often, especially in the west, when an artist looks at the empty canvas/paper, he/she aromatically assumes that it has to be filled. He/she tends to disregard that deep energy and in a hurry tries to fill the so called “negative space” in, creates something concrete, finite and often lifeless.
Creating art, like in life, is constantly working with challenges of the material aspects and yet respecting the wisdom of that “empty” space, the immaterial. Finding that perfect balance where the nothing gives rise to something and vice versa.
In Japanese art (sumi-e) there is a name given to that space “Yohaku”. It literally translates to “white space”. In this form of art, the brushwork actually defines the white space, but yet the white space allows the brushwork to express itself within. It is the integral part of the whole experience.
As an artist, what I take from this verse is that we are to surrender ourselves, let go of total control and together with the universal forces, create our visual expression of that experience.
* From  http://www.taoism.net/ttc/complete.htm
**Art and creating are interchangeable with life and living.
*** I am not an authority in Tao Te Ching interpretation……just my insight….that’s all.

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