Art, calligraphy, Tai Chi and singing
November 29, 2008
Continuing the insights from the previous post, ‘Enchanted Vessel’, I am always struck by the universal principles that seem to run through all arts. The deeper you go into disparate arts like painting, calligraphy, singing and Tai chi the closer they come to one another in their essence.
In Tai Chi beginning students usually get caught up in the fancy arm movements without realizing these are grounded in combat sport. If you watch a Tai Chi master execute the form (a ritualized series of movements) , it is filled with power and a controlled tension, as well as a fluid grace. If you try to just imitate the graceful arm movements you get only empty decoration. But if the movements originate from your center, they begin to contain power.
In singing, novices try to create volume and resonace by ‘doing ‘ something with their throat or mouth. But true resonant sound comes from deep within the center of the body and from the connection between resonant membranes in the entire body. It can’t be forced or faked.
In painting, beginning and even experienced painters can get caught up in imitating a certain style. But usually , a style is a set of techniques combined with a visual vocabulary that an artist has evolved over years of consistent work. The power of an artwork is intimately linked with the artist’s passion and dedication. Imitating a style will give a trendy quick fix with no depth or staying power.
Calligraphy and tai Chi are very similar. When we start, we want to be able to make all the fancy letters and swirls, but without grounding in good letterforms and consistent spacing, these will look weak and unconvincing. The power in a piece of calligraphy comes from mastery of form, then comes the freedom to improvise within that form.
In all of these disciplines I constantly learn that periods of effort give way to letting go and letting it happen. Trusting the body, to make a sound, a stroke, a movement. Sidestepping the ego’s sense of, ‘Aren’t I doing this well’ to being in service of the art. To put in enough hours with humility, that maybe one percent of the time, excellence can emerge unbidden and effortlessly. And even more important that excellence is simply, truth. That I may make true tai chi movements, sing true notes, draw true letters and use true colours.
And when you give up all sense of needing recognition, or returns or a sense of being special, all of a sudden,whatever the art form it becomes one’s own totally unique expression, who I really am is recognizable in that form.