The Empty Space “Tao Te Ching” verse 11 for Artists

by | Jul 15, 2014 | 0 comments

The Empty Space blog illustration of yellow painted flowers
Verse 11*


Thirty spokes join in one hub
In its emptiness, there is the function of a vehicle
Mix clay to create a container
In its emptiness, there is the function of a container
Cut open doors and windows to create a room
In its emptiness, there is the function of a room


Therefore, that which exists is used to create benefit
That which is empty is used to create functionality



This verse is particularly appropriate to Zen way of painting (living and creating), where the emphasis is put on the nothingness, the emptiness. It is in the meditative state, where it’s quiet within, where the mind is empty, that best art is created. 

Lao Tzu in this verse makes us reflect on the importance of nothingness that exists everywhere. That emptiness is the anchor, the source of all that there is, as without silence, there can’t be sound, without stillness, there can’t be action… 
The artwork is created on an empty space (canvas, paper, lump of clay). It is through that space that the artwork expresses itself.  

Shodo and Sumi-e style of art are the best manifestation of this verse. Both are based on Oriental calligraphy. Using calligraphic strokes, the elegant and harmonious line/image created with ink is expressive only because of the white paper that is left around it. The term used in Sumi-e painting is  yohaku 余白(in Japanese, a blank, unpainted space)

How often are we aware of that space within and without?……Your thoughts please.

* I am using  Translation by Derek Lin as examples of verses, but there are many different translations with different nuances and sensibilities of the translators.  


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