Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chinese Fables and Indian Yogic Art

"When Lao-Kung felt that his end was approaching, he asked that all his pupils gather around him that he might once more see them and bless them ere he set forth upon that voyage from which no man has yet returned.

"And so they came and found the old painter in his workshop. As usual he was sitting before his easel, although he had grown much too weak to hold a brush. They urged him to retire to his couch where he would be more comfortable, but he shook his head, saying unto them, 'These brushes and these paints have been my steady companions throughout these many years. It is fitting that I should be among them when the time comes for me to depart.'

"'Master, we are sad at heart when we contemplate your fate. For you have no wife to weep over you and no sons to carry you to the grave and give offerings to the gods. All your livelong days you have worked and slaved, from earliest dawn to the setting of the late sun, but the grubbiest money-changer in the meanest market has accumulated greater material rewards for his unworthy labors than have ever come your way. You have given with both hands and mankind has quietly taken whatever you offered. Has this been fair? Have the Gods shown you any mercy? Has this great sacrifice on your part really been worth while?'

"Then the old man raised his head and his face became like that of a mighty conqueror at the moment of his greatest triumph as he answered: 'It has been more than fair and the reward has vastly surpassed my highest expectations. What you have said is true. I have neither kith nor kin. I have spent well nigh a hundred years on this earth. Oft I went hungry and more than once, if it had not been for the kindness of my friends, I would have been without shelter or raiment.'

"'I surrendered all hope of personal gain that I might the better devote myself to my task. But in following the inner voice that bade me follow my solitary path, I have achieved the highest purpose to which any of us hope to aspire.'

"Thereupon the oldest of the pupils addressed him haltingly. "Master," he said in a whisper, "as a parting blessing, will you not tell us what the highest purpose may be to which mortal man can aspire?"

"A strange light now came into the eyes of Lao-Kung as he lifted himself from his seat. His trembling feet carried him across the room to the spot where he stood the one painting that he loved best. It was a blade of grass, hastily jotted down with the strokes of his mighty brush. But that blade of grass lived and breathed. It was not merely a blade of grass, for within itself it contained the spirit of every blade of grass that had ever grown since the beginning of time.

"'There,' said the old man, 'is my answer. I have made myself the equal of the Gods, for I too have touched the hem of Eternity.'

"Thereupon he blessed his pupils and they laid him down upon his couch and he died." [source]

 [All illustrations this post are from Ajit Mookerje's Yoga Art ]


  1. Alan, this is just the sort of tough love story I needed to get back into my studio. thanks.

  2. ahhhh. Alan, you are a wise one! thank you for this(as I put off priming miles of canvas)...

  3. The underlying motifs, point forms and point group arrangements bear an obvious resemblance and relationship to the basic structures informing certain decorative schemes, or upon which certain decorative structures are formed. The yogic intent is quite specific and different from the typical motives for decor, but seeing this gets me wondering about ancient design lore and guild practices (I mean isn't it funny how much of what we know of ancient peoples, religions and their cultural values are contained, conveyed and preserved down the ages for us in the forms of art they made?) Anyhoo, it makes me wonder about the potential for a practical"yoga of decoration." Just a thought.

    Years ago, I visited the "school of scared art" in new York city on a hope that there was something alive goping on there. I was more than a little dissappointed to discover that they were only interested in repeating cultural traditions that head been long dead for thousands of years. When i asked them what they had to offer contemporary artists and artisans who were interested in the spiritual in art these days and what if any studio practicum they made available for interested people to explore, they just started blankly at me.

    There are many reasons why people throughout the ages have made geometric and naturalistic decor for their living spaces and not all of them have been for mere "prettification" or the cache of simulated luxury/wealth.

    The ancients knew something else about the inherent value of these forms and their effects on the psyche, as exemplified in these images.

    Just throwing that out there ...

    I do love the published works of Ajit Mookerjee.

    Lots of food for thought there to those artists with this interest.


    -- Mark

  4. Geesh, typed that one too fast.

    It was the "School of Sacred Art" not scared art!!

    Apologies. I hope the basic gist got thru ...

    Just curious .. anybody else out there have an interest in this idea?

  5. Mark, it was your comment on the Italian Grand Tour post that reminded me of this Chinese story. Thought you might like it.

    The spread and popularity of Buddhism (as an example) was precisely due to it's ability to adapt to new cultures. Dharma is, according to the Buddha, universal and can be understood by people of all Ages and Cultures.

    What you said about the School of Sacred Art is interesting considering we live in a time so utterly different from Siddhartha's. You'd think Art might have kept up with those changes.

  6. It has, if you look at the evidence of exhibitions and publications like LACMA's 1986 "The Spiritual in Abstract Painting: 1890-1985" or Roger Lipsey's "The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art" or even classics from Ananda Coomaraswamy to the likes of art related comments from Joseph Campbell, even currently practicing "decorative" artists like Philip Taaffe or Robert Kushner.

    I for one, just find this topic endlessly fascinating and abidingly interesting.

    Love your blog, Al.

    Thank you so much for sharing.


    -- M