At the excellent suggestion of Danu, I am reading a chapter in Alan Watts’ classic “The Way of Zen” entitled “Zen in the Arts”. Watts talks about how in the West artists can have an almost adversarial relationship with their materials. He quotes Malraux who said we strive to “conquer” our medium, much as we’d conquer a mountain. I suspect we have all felt this at some point, particularly when a painting isn’t going as we want. We may feel that if we could just get rid of all these brushes and paints and let our vision shine through, we’d make better art. It can feel as if our materials are our foes in the struggle to make art.
Watts says that in the East this view is not understood at all. He says:
“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
determines the result as much as your own hand.”
I love this metaphorical explanation of how the very thing we may view as our adversary plays a crucial role in our endeavors. In fact, without that with which we struggle, we would achieve nothing.
I will remember that the next time my brush, paint or paper seems to have a life of it’s own. They are taking me where I am going…