(November 2011, Art&Culture magazine, Auroville)
From the ancient days in the East, the sense of Chi or Ki (氣) is considered a very important element in life. Even today, we use this word very often. For example, the word “fine” or “well” will be described by these two letters “元氣” literally meaning “connected to the source”. Chi represents subtle energy, i.e. Prana in Indian spiritual tradition. Chi occupies a main role in the Eastern arts such as painting & calligraphy, music, architecture & garden design, martial arts, tea ceremony and others. The well-known I-ching(易）and Fen-shui (風水) are examples of applicable knowledge of this subtle energy science for daily life. Most of the town planning in successful civilizations of the past was carefully conducted according to Fen-shui science. Martial arts such as Chi-kong (気功), Tai-chi-chuan (太極拳) and Aiki-do (合氣道) are based on the energy flow in the body, and between the bodies, especially muscles, inner organs and glands, aiming at an overall harmony. These practices may lead to a healthy, noble and humble personality.
Mountain and Water 「山水」
Here, I would like to focus on the unique significance of Eastern brush painting. One of the main streams of brush painting is called Shan-sui or San-sui (山水), which means Mountain and Water, the symbolical representation of two Chinese spiritual traditions. The unshakable mountain as the ideal of Confucianism and flowing water as Taoism’s ideal. Confucianism emphasizes the importance of duty in social life, while Taoism on the other hand aims to achieve complete freedom in the life of the individual. Logically, these extreme world views may cause different standpoints and arguments to occur even though they originally come from one lineage.
We can see that many of Shan-sui paintings show misty mountains and a few temples, or a hermitage on the mountain, a streaming river and sometimes the sea in the background. You may find a hermit or poet as the main human figure, very small, possibly with an accompanying friend. When you stand in front of Shan-sui paintings, you will find yourself becoming involved, exploring the landscape of the misty mountain and the gently streaming river, you may even feel the texture of the evergreen forest.
It is quite a pleasant sensation to the eye and also to the rest of the body. It gives a feeling of relaxation and connection with nature. It is because you are invited to the journey in the painting just as the painters experienced it through their brush stroke.
The vagueness, unclarity brought by the mist is important. It leads our focus into a deeper exploration of our inner and outer nature, – not to think but more to feel. It evokes our poetic imagination.
We can state that the experience of Shan-sui painting is nothing but a visual meditation.
Art is the transmission of consciousness through matter. Naturally the state of consciousness of the artist determines the quality of the artifacts, while his/her social status, technique and knowledge are not of primal importance. It is quite natural that the character of an artist is receptive and spiritual, and this is the true meaning of “Tradition – 伝燈” in the East, it means: the transmission of the inner fire. Today, we say tradition is too old, but be careful to state that. True tradition is ever new and it allows constant rebirth of the form according to the time-spirit. For that, it is necessary to learn the form, to be caught by the form for some time. After some struggles, you will master the form and be able to play with it, guided by the inner fire. The more we integrate the past, the stronger our vision becomes, and our confidence towards the future.
Creation of art is nothing but a playing with limitations and conditions. Neither the rules in society nor complete freedom of the individual alone can fulfill progressive creation. For all elements are necessary and everything is equally important.
Therefore I would say that there can be no integral awareness by aiming at, or remaining in, either of these extreme positions. Rather by understanding and accepting both we will be able to flow between the extremes, guided by the spiritual fire at the center of our beings.
Chi flows in the entire Universe, – we are the eternal travelers between One and Many.
Jyoti Naoki Eri