Sumi-e With Words

by | Oct 16, 2014 | 3 comments

Sumi-e With Words article illustration of flower reaching towards sky
Back to my Sumi-e painting class. I find through teaching, out of necessity, I find ways of making the inquisitive Western minds relate and let go of the habitual ways of seeing and creating. This is the space where Eastern and Western concepts merge……
So what is the difference in Eastern and Western way of creating or living? Living is a form of creating, isn’t it? We do indeed create our own lives….
I am using a Western means (that is using words) to explain this, but words don’t reveal the meaning to the Eastern ( Zen and Tao)  way . As Lao Tzu says in “Tao Te Ching”, first verse “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao…..”
I think one of the most important differences is the control. The Western mentality has always been occupied in manipulating nature and the natural. Directing the events and actions towards an outcome (a goal) and in the process loosing the understanding of the natural flow of things/life. The result becomes the only purpose for the actions…. very little importance is put on the process itself.
Can one describe the process with words, I wonder? The words only explain what has happened or is about to happen but not the experience as it is happening.
We humans are part of the universe (the natural), part of the process of creation. The only way to feel whole and complete, is when we are aware of that.* We do that when we let go of the control for the outcome as we create art/life… something so foreign for the Western way of being. This can happen by accident and in small spurts when one is in the creative space, engrossed by the process. It happens also when one purposely creates that awareness: the awareness of the present moment, the awareness of the course of creating/living itself. This awareness is essential for painting in Zen (Sumi-e ) way/style.
There are so many more nuances to this topic….will be back on this….will gladly respond to your inquiries or comments though.
* This sentence can be a topic of debate, I agree. Before doing so you might want to remember times when you felt complete. Was there struggle, goal or control in these instances?


  1. MT McClanahan

    I will try to not irritate you too much with my incessant inquiries, but I wonder what the "Process Art" movement has in common with what you talk about.

    I wrote a post on process at but didn't take into account Eastern influences. I will have to do more research.

    But my point in the article was that the idea of "process" is still going strong as a "mantra of sorts for artists. But how many really understand what you speak of and how it is related? Is it the same thing I wonder.

  2. Lilith Ohan

    My understanding of the "Process Art" is that it is a statement and not a way of being/living, therefore it is a goal. Actually it is an art form, where the result is a demonstration of the process of creation….a statement.
    There have been Eastern influences on Western art for centuries. No doubt that there is on "Process Art" as well. For me, and I am not an art historian, what separates the Western art from the Eastern is that in the Western art is separate from life, where in the Eastern mentality it is the way of life….Looks like I am going to elaborate on this in one of my upcoming blogs.
    And no, I don't find your enquiries irritating, but welcoming challenges for self observation.

  3. MT McClanahan

    You may notice in my article that I start out a bit cynical but end more open. I guess I am a cynic–not as bad as I used to be though–but I agree with you and think that sometimes what we Westerners see as spiritual, in regards to process, is something else, maybe just emersion into the act of working–the "zone", as it were.

    I live what with you say everyday, that art is seen as something apart from existence, or necessity, and has no real value to the state of things. Men especially see art, or creativity, as either feminine, or even nonsense.

    Maybe I am drawn to what you say because I feel I have become disconnected with what I do in some way and feel it.


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