Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why Make Pictures?


For what it's worth, I've been reading and greatly enjoying "Kenzan and His Tradition" by Bernard Leach. Published in 1966, this book describes the artistic traditions that informed the practice of Ogata Kenzan who developed a uniquely Japanese approach to ceramic decoration in the late 1600 - early 1700's. The influence and importance of Kenzan's "Tradition" is similar to the breakthroughs in European art by the better-known masters of the Italian renaissance. Leach's argument is that, while being in a completely different form of art, Kenzan's accomplishment of fusing an artistic response to cultural, social, political and religious realities was just as groundbreaking and that it continues to influence how we think and feel. His art changed the world. It accomplished this by the force of Kenzan's integrity and his focus on tradition and his unique sensitivity to the cultural winds that were stirring in his lifetime. In 2004, the Miho Museum near Kyoto held an exhibition of Kenzan's work, life and times.

And Leach's writing has a completeness and clarity that beautifully describes a very different historical culture. This alone is a good reason to read "Kenzan and His Tradition". It has slowed me down and allowed me to witness the lives of real people unfolding through time. The best parts are the connections he weaves between individuals with many different aims and agendas. Some are theoretical (because this is a work of scholarship) and others are well documented. But what does any of this have to do with my landscape drawings of 21st century suburban Boston?

I include my drawing of some small pine tree trunks with this description of Leach's book because it coincides with my reading and that, if you can be sympathetic enough, it shows the influence Japanese art, or Asian as I barely understand it, has had on my practice at the moment. While being a timeless type of nature study, for me this drawing is a poetic reflection on an exact moment of my existence. I stood in the cold with frozen fingers and produced a drawing of what I looked at. The trees captured a part of my imagination that is too tangled to describe. It was  a meditative moment with a specific task that needed to be accomplished. At different times, several people walked by, walking their dogs. We exchanged greetings. The dogs sniffed my offered hand. I drew until it became uncomfortable and went home.

Why do this? Why do this now? If you must know, it brings me peace and a momentary focus on something that is not imaginary. My thought process whirs along and I observe it while trying to create a reasonable facsimile of what I am looking at. This is what happens when one is making a picture. The drawing hardly matters. After a while it simply becomes a testimony to my having sat with something and regarded it closely and with affection. I think this is a good reason to make Art.

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