It has been an eye opening experience studying a different kind of art form. I’ve been taking a Sumi-e, Japanese ink painting, course at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center here in Toronto. I wanted to study this so as to gain more control over my brushwork. I want to be more conscious as I used a brush.
The oddest aspect for me is that Sumi-e is taught by imitating set images. So over the 8 weeks the beginners start with an Orchid, move to Bamboo, visit a Plum Branch and end with Chrysanthemum. Collectively these are referred to as the Four Gentlemen. Success is one’s ability to mimic the given image. It is not easy. We are working with a variety of tonal values on the brush. The strokes are very alive – I need just the right amount of pressure and just the right amount of wetness/dryness on the brush. Imitating strokes that already exist certainly enable me to focus on these basics - pressure, tone and wetness. And then my body’s relationship to making the stroke. How I hold the brush and what my intent is.
So I can see many virtues in learning this way – by imitation. There is certainly a tradition of it in Western Art. I have some vague notion of the Old Masters’ ateliers where apprentices learned by imitating the Master’s work. But the odd part for me is that so much of the art I’ve done has focused on the creative aspect of it – the part I make up. Not that I haven’t done technique – ceramics, drawing, Photoshop, digital printing – all have their heavy duty Form portions. After all I preach to my students that technique must be studied and embraced. Nonetheless most of my art journey trumps creativity over technique. You need technique, sure, but it is not an end in itself. I often come across people who like to do very exact drawn copies of photographs and I can never see the point, except for control of one’s medium. The heart of this is that I don’t really believe it is Art if it is just technique. My Art includes a new way of seeing. So it is very odd being around an art form which depends so heavily on imitation.
Here are my versions of the Four Gentlemen: