Friday, 28 December 2012

Zen of Understanding

“Sometimes it proves the highest understanding not to understand” 

Sumi-e is a form of oriental painting from Japan. It is a pictorial expression of the spirit that resides in Zen martial arts and meditation. It possesses unique character and beauty attracting western artists to learn.

Traditionally four subjects; bamboo, orchid, plum blossom and chrysanthemum, known as the “Four Gentlemen” have been painted in oriental brush painting. Each subject focuses on a different brush technique which is also used in oriental calligraphy and symbolically they represents different seasons of the year , or different characteristics of a gentlemen.

There are numerous books and instruction manuals showing and explaining the brush strokes and design patterns . There are also multiple videos on YouTube showing different artist's Sumi-e painting demonstrations.

All this material, I find, is just information for the Westerner's mind, (more and more in the East too), which is constantly trying to understand, explain mentally, and in the process, misses it completely. This is also happening more and more in the East as well. Traditionally, in the East, the real artistic skill was attained through endless repetitions, thus the understanding ends up coming not through the mind, but through the whole body, bringing out an insight, which is so beautifully depicted in the paintings.

I felt this also through my Tai Chi practices here in the West, when I was a student. Detailed verbal understanding of a move is only a very small part of really embracing it. Body is far more intelligent.

So how do we learn this profound technique?..... through the body, with practice, without understanding....with patience.


  1. I believe we speak with a similar voice.

  2. I really feel validated in my own work seeing your work. I have a coach when I show her your work it will be clear about the brevity and strong stroke I want to use to express myself. I would be alot more confident if I allowed myself to enjoy the process relaxing in honest expression.

    1. Thank you for sharing your feelings.