I was asked to do some decorative painting for my friends' new community acupuncture clinic, something to soften the hard edges of the space with a Chinese type theme. I had done some bamboo for them in their old space and so this was suggested again.
Paintings of bamboo are found throughout the history of Chinese art, as are birds, mountains, various blossoms and pine trees. These classic motifs appear with such frequency because the Chinese like to see the 'spirit' behind the technique of a particular painter, and comparing the techniques of various people paintings the same imagery makes noticing the differences in personality, in spirit, much easier.
It's been a while since I have painted bamboo, but it's pretty straightforward ... as far as I remembered at least .... so once I placed the elements on the wall, I started right in to paint.
It looked awful. The leaves I thought I was painting in a natural, bamboo-y manner looked like spiders, or badly drawn hands. Not good.
OK ..... Step away. Find the book (I could have looked at real bamboo, but there was nothing close by and I had brought a book on the history of Chinese art with me).
Look. Really look. Study the paintings.
OK, back to it - Paint what is actually in front of you ... not what you think bamboo looks like .... And lo and behold, painting what WAS real, exactly - size, shape, angles, overlap, each piece distinct, careful and precise ..... LOOKED real.
Funny how that works ......
Mild cross over to martial arts .... DO the thing for real, and it will LOOK real. Do what you THINK the real thing looks like, and it will not.
I've been watching an older BBC TV series - Inspector Morse - on the internet. I've always liked him as a character, but never really watched a whole slew of episodes before .. And there are quite a few - I think I'm at episode 20 at this point.
What I have started to notice having watched so many are the recurring themes that seem to run through them .... Biases and viewpoints of the author and the era. I would not have noticed them through 8 or even 10 episodes, but now I can't watch an episode without seeing them reappear.
I won't bore you with what these themes are, but I reminded me of a conversation on the radio recently about how the music world has changed.
Nowadays it's all MP3s, shuffle mode and playlists .... Nothing wrong with that - I spent hours and hours back in the day making compilation tapes of my favorite songs ... But always listening to your favorites means your music is all about YOU, and rarely about the artist and who THEY are.
Having spent my youth listening to albums, without the ability to easily skip over the tracks I found a bit dull, I think I gained a greater understanding of the artists and their vision than perhaps people who live in shuffle mode or Pandora land today.
Some things really only comes out in a body of work ... and really do not manifest in snippets mixed together with other artists.
It's why retrospectives are so interesting, it tells you about how someone else thinks, sees the world. How their thoughts have changed and evolved over time, matured or fizzled out.
Someone who designs something 'whole', complete, whether it's their perfect one hit wonder album, a series of paintings, a lifetime of film making ... or perhaps even a martial system ... is worth spending some time with to understand WHY they think an album is complete when it is, or a painting finished, an ambition attained.
Where is it that they see the balance as correct, that nothing is left out that needs to be in? That to me is fascinating ....
Though as a down side, I would also say that familiarity can also breed contempt ... like me for the dated values in 80s television ....