Here we are, stuck in a twenty-first century version of Charles Dickens’ “best of times and worst of times”. Limitless technological innovation keeps adding to our comforts while enlarging our needs. Still, we have been rudely reminded that we humans only occupy this planet courtesy of geological permission.
The earth can open up under us at any moment. Earthquakes, tsunamis happen. The biblical flood doesn’t even seem so mythical anymore. And then there are the human earthquakes. Revolts against oppression. Leaders hiring mercenaries to shoot against their own citizenry. This poor world is in turmoil, big time.
For me, the significance of artistry––the pursuit of honest art-making––is demonstrated when videos show how the people of Japan patiently line up for a cup of soup. What beauty there is in their restraint and quiet discipline. They do not loot. They are patient, humble.
One cannot help but wonder what is it in their culture that has shaped them to behave in such a civilized way. I believe a large part of their cultural dignity is based in their highly refined sense of art, the sensitivity that has seeped down to the homeliest everyday need to imbibe liquid, which they have transformed by the “tea ceremony”. Everyday life comprises the art of gracious manners, consideration, subtlety in the appreciation of true beauty. The respect for that which is ancient, tried and true seems to permeate their attitude.
For me, the Japanese Arts of Living with artistic integrity seem to be intertwined with the elementary Art of Seeing what is put before our eyes.
All around us we are presented with awesome masterpieces of nature. Every moment offers sublime “ found” masterworks, just for the expended effort of looking. And Seeing:
Morning breaking. A mushroom sprouting from the earth. The ocean. A piece of driftwood. A rock. A tiny sea shell, honed and perfected bringing its own message from the sea. A child’s smile. A Buttefly’s Eye.