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A Chinese Painter

by Manly P. Hall

The method of a Chinese painter is in the imagery technique. Having received his order for a painting, he stretches his silk, lays it on the floor before him. With a new and dry brush in hand he settles down to meditation. He does not mix his paint, for he knows he will not use it for a long time; nor is he concerned with haste; he will have six months to fulfill his commission. His first task is imagery.

Day after day at a certain hour he comes and sits. He will meditate for two hours on one occasion, three hours on another, or four hours, eight hours, ten hours, depending on his mood. There will be times when he sits for only fifteen minutes and then goes away; at another time he may sit through a full twenty-four hours, looking without seeing. To what end? To build a picture within himself.

He does not do what the realist does. If the picture is to be of a little stream flowing on the rocks, the Chinese artist does not go out somewhere to look at a stream. Nor does he try to imagine a stream on the silk. He does not start out, as the amateur does, painting in a few rocks and going on then to put in the stream. Instead, he sits thinking of all the streams he has ever known, mountain streams and rivers; he sees the waters in eternal motion, and the sky and the trees and the rocks; and gradually the streams become the symbol of Life, Space, and Cosmos. Truth is flowing, Law is flowing, in the forever flow of Eternity. Monastery walls are reflected in the deep pools, and temples are seen as symbolical of the deep pools of meditation along the shore of life.

And as he sits and meditates thus, he visualizes and flows with the stream; he finally feels himself to be the stream. He breaks against rocks but he is not broken. Within himself he reflects all life and yet he is not the reflection. He reflects the sunset but it remains the same. The river is always the same and always different; it flows on forever but the same water goes on only once. As slowly he sinks into deeper and deeper meditation, finally he has ceased. Only the stream and the river and the rocks remain. He is the river, he is the stream, he is the rock that he will paint.

It is only then and in this perfect realization that he finally permits the body to express; very gently, in a rhythm which is in itself almost that of the dance, he reaches out and touches his brush gently to the pot of paint, and with a few simple strokes the picture is finished. It is a picture of stream and rocks, but whoever looks upon that picture will find in it something more. How, cannot be said with any exactitude. But the "somethings" are there; the very silk itself is permeated with adequate motive. For the artist did not paint a picture; the picture was painted through him. And this is perfect technique: he knew exactly what was wanted, and how to achieve it. This is art, the supreme art, the art that is life.

Manly P. Hall, "Citizens of Eternity." Horizon (October 1941) Vol. 1, No. 3: p. 25

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