Friday, 4 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 7

Two patriarchs harmonizing their minds
Part (separated) of a handscroll attributed to Shi Ke (石恪)
Five Dynasties period (907-960). A Chan (Zen) Buddhist work that was of
primary importance in the subsequent development of Chinese art.
Tokyo National Museum, Japan. 
Yesterday, I introduced the importance of the unconscious to forging a connection between the artist of today and the earliest Homo sapiens, and the day before that I used the sense of smell as another connection that might have significance. Both of these are experiential matters. One came from the unconscious and the other from shared biological senses. In neither case, do they rely on cultural matters nor on conscious thought. This gives us an avenue of considerable objectivity.

Where can we go from there? Given such a rare opportunity, we must tread very carefully, one stepping stone at a time. At any moment we could find ourselves facing subjectivity. The first step takes us to the Great Divide, and I am not speaking of the line of mountains with their shrinking glaciers which separate Alberta and British Columbia, Mind you, what an excellent metaphor this makes. I am speaking of the division between eastern (introverted), and western (extraverted) thought.

Allow me to demonstrate this with the mythical use of thunder: Here in the west, our mind turns to Zeus with his thunderbolts and to Thor with his hammer. Already, we are in the midst of subjective bifurcation. We have to back up a bit to find some common ground: and this thunder punishes and avenges. In turning to the east, we encounter a very different sort of thunder:

This is the yi-jing hexagram 51, Zhen (thunder). It consists of the trigrams Zhen, doubled.
Zhen indicates pervasiveness. When Zhen comes, it frightens people. Later, it makes people talk and laugh. Its majesty reaches one hundred li in all directions. There is no misplacement of the ladle or sacrificial wine.
Translation: Chung Wu, Ph.D., The Essentials of the Yi Jing, St Paul, Minnesota, 2003.
Once again, we have to back up a bit. Zhen is also the spring thunder, scary at first but then then the rains come, the crops flourish and the people rejoice.

Zeus gives little laughter, even to his wife, Hera, but Zhen is pervasive: it permeates everywhere. Fear leads to blessings.  It is the complete package. In the west, the thunder is only mean and scary: Do as I say, or else. The west is pushy and extraverted.

As I look around the world's art, I look for the qualities I saw of the cave painting of the boar in part one. It was there that I recognized the same things that I would do as an artist, not only in its deliberate tricks I would use, but in its unconscious content where similar tricks would come from the part of my mind that I cannot consciously access, the part where objectivity lies. I look for signs of an impression. Mostly what I see is overlying structures and rules, academy styles where all creativity is always subservient to attempts at reality. In his later years, Rembrandt could accomplish that with the sort of line we see in the boar's hindquarters where, although nothing real, it would give an impression of such. But with Rembrandt it is a natural-looking drip of paint that has landed on his nose in the self portrait as a highlight, and as if by accident, but when you stand back, all you see is the reality, and technique. What we are looking for seems to start in the nineteenth century and it is not well received at first. The critic tells Monet it is just an impression.

But I am already seeing it in the east by the tenth century. Zhen and Zen are also connected: Zhen is the realization of the completeness which will start with fear, and Zen is the sudden shock that brings wisdom from the depths of the psyche.

As I was looking for information about Shi Ke's painting this morning, I found a lot of misattributions, and I remembered things that I had heard and thought about the painting over the years. Subjectivity was trying to gain a foothold again. A new idea sprang to mind. I wondered if the meaning had changed when the scroll was cut. In the famous example, perhaps the second patriarch is now the tiger. Perhaps the poem might contain something that might go along with that. In what way are the two patriarchs harmonizing their minds? There is a Chinese character, Wang, on every tiger's head. It means "prince". Are the two patriarchs harmonizing their minds in laziness? Tiger bones were used in Chinese Medicine to cure laziness.  But the tiger has meanings that would deny that it is lazy. But I had also heard that the tiger is fat and lazy and so was the prince. It looks that way in the brush drawing. Now I have been interested in Chinese art for a long time, but how well could I read it? I decided to find out.

I emailed a friend who is an academic in China whom I thought would know. No reply yet as it is too soon. It is about 7.20 a.m. in Beijing as I type this. Let's find out how right or wrong my subjectivity is. I expect I will hear by Monday so you will be able to either pat me on the back, or laugh and point, or perhaps this particular academic is too busy to respond right away. You might want to bet on the outcome among yourselves after you read this about the artist in context. (just above "five dynasties" heading)

Have a Zen weekend.

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