the state of being or existence which is above and beyond the limits of material existence
excelling, surpassing or going beyond usual limits
How are transcendence, spirituality and social justice related?
How do people overcome suffering – suffering due to health problems, financial problems, relationship problems, whether prejudice, conflict and/or injustice?
What role does art play in helping to overcome or “transcend” suffering?
If we define spirit as that which is non-material, originating from an unseen, unlimited and currently unexplainable source, then spirit moves from this unlimited source through the artist’s own emotions and cognitive structures into the material realm both as artmaking and as art.
In other words, spirit becomes both 1) an impulse to create art and 2) a means by which that art is informed.
Conversely, since suffering requires the power to go above or beyond the limits of material existence, both emotionally and cognitively, the “non-material power which originates from an unseen, unlimited source”, which I am referring to as “spirit” in this presentation, plays a vital role in transcendence.
Kawahara, Saiun. 2009
Meditate (Reflect On)
the Way to Reach Heaven
The fundamental assumption of this presentation is that creating art, i.e. creating artworks that are imbued with deeply intense personal meaning, is a vehicle by which our students, and indeed all humans, have the possibility of trans-cending the limits of our material existence.
Unknown Artist, 2008.
Kyo o Motte Ei ni Iru
Achieve fulfillment by emptying the heart
Shosho, a contemporary form of Japanese calligraphic art, was developed in the mid-1950’s by Yukei Teshima, a Japanese (Tokyo) artist who experienced
almost total devastation during the incendiary bombings of Japan during World War II.
Ten years after experiencing these things, he created the following artwork, transcending this horrific experience in a positive manner.
Aftermath of Tokyo Air Raids
“Without being afraid of anything or changing any details,
Can’t we quietly express our life on a piece of paper?
After all, Sho [calligraphy] should be based on the human spiritual element.
The spirit is the center of our mind and the source of our life itself.”
ARASHI, 1975 (Storm)
Fujin To Raijin, 17th Century (The God of Wind and the God of Thunder) Tawaraya Sotatsu, Kennin-ji, Kyoto, Japan
In this Shosho work, Yukei Teshima reveals figures mischievously dancing in perfect step with the winds of Heaven, transcending the fear of storms to see their power and beauty.
ARASHI, 1975 (Storm)
“Blue Tornado,” 2006 Alexis Rockman
In the work, Arashi, using only ink, brush and paper, the artist, Yukei Teshima, has captured the “spirit of the storm,” making it recognizable even to the Western viewer who cannot read the Japanese character.
HASU, 1959 (Lotus)
Though humans, like the lotus plant, have the natural capacity to grow positively toward an unseen or spiritual light, many do not realize their full growth or potential as human beings, failing to bloom or release fragrance. To transcend the negative circumstances in ones life requires strong will and vitality, as well as the desire to achieve true awakening.
The lotus begins with a tuber buried deeply in the mud.
With vitality and strength it pushes through murky waters towards the light, eventually breaking the surface, producing a bud and blooming, thus fulfilling a role of service by bringing beauty and fragrance to the world.
“HASU (Lotus),” 1959
“Dei Chuu Haku Ren, Mud-Dirt Inside White Lotus,”
2009, Koto Takahashi
TOBU (Flight), 1970 Yukei Teshima
“The Ecstasy of St. Theresa,” ca. 1660, Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The stories of the spirit of transcendence have informed dynamic, meaningful artworks in all civilizations, religions and cultures.
This sculpture portrays a vision of being pierced in the heart by the divine arrow of God’s Love.
“The Chagall Windows” (The Twelve Sons of Jacob), Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, Israel
“America Windows,” 1977,
The Art Institute of Chicago
These stained glass windows by Chagall lift the heart of the viewer beyond the boundaries of the physical world, as they transmit the spirit of the Jewish faith through historical stories.
Shiva, Lord of Creation and Destruction,
Here, Shiva, the Hindu god/lord of creation and destruction dances with focused joy, while the earth responds transitioning through the cycle of birth, growth, withering and death.
14th Century, Persian miniature showing the angel, Gabrielle, speaking to Muhammed
The Prophet Muhammed in a Mosque, Turkish, 16th Century, paint on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
These paintings indicate spiritual events in the life of Mohammed, the prophet who founded Islam. In artworks of every faith, and every culture, we find reference to the “spirit” that has the power to transcend the material world.
Fudo Myo-o (Acalantha), 11th Century, Heian, Tokyo National Museum, Japan
In this sculpture of Fudo Myo-o, one of five kings in Esoteric Buddhism, the aura of flames represent the intensity of his burning desire to bring salvation to the people lost in suffering.
Artist Alex Grey’s contemporary works consistently deal with the transcendent power of the human spirit as we “create” the material world.
Alex Grey, 1984. “Theologue: The Union of Human Consciousness Weaving the Fabric of Space and Time in which the Self and Its Surroundings are Embedded, Acrylic Painting, 180 X 60 inches
Nearly 100 years ago, in 1911, Wassily Kandinsky published his now famous essay, “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” By examining the artifacts from almost any culture at almost any period of history, almost anyone can easily find a direct connection between spiritual concerns and the visual arts. As the restraints of the Realism gradually
faded, and abstract and intuitive art became an unlimited theme in contemporary art, the grown in importance in both artmaking and art teaching.
Yet when we examine our national visual arts standards, our state standards and local art curricula, we find nothing of this vital relationship between art and the spiritual or transcendent in our standards.
As art educators of integrity, we have to ask
Content Standard: 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
Content Standard: 2: Using knowledge of structures and functions
Content Standard: 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
Content Standard: 5: Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
Content Standard: 6: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines
Why has the topic of the spiritual in art become an elephant in the art education closet?
Why are art, spiritual wisdom, power and transcendence important concepts for 21st Century Learning?
“Tenchi-Shin (Heaven Earth – God Bright),”
Tairiku Teshima, 2008
How can the Art of Shosho help our students master the basic fundamentals of 21st Century Learning?
(Love and Respect)
1) Self-control and self- responsibility, i.e. accepting responsibility for whatever happens in one’s life is the physical foundation for dynamic power.
Mastering control of one’s body and thoughts is essential and is one element found in this artform, as students practice brushing dynamic artworks from single characters.
Gen (Origin; the Color of Heaven), 2008, Tairiku Teshima
21st Century Learning Concepts
Refining the heart polishes the
character, gradually increasing the ability to “choose the high road” and to use power in a positive rather than a negative way. Power accompanied with high moral character becomes dynamic power – power that is used to transcend one’s own personal concerns and to work for the good of others and the world.
to reflect on the structure of the universe and moral character
allows them to answer the big questions about the meaning of
life, and how to live in a prosperous and joyful manner.
Ku-on (Eternity of Time), 2002
21st Century Learning Concepts
How does Shosho (Japanese short-phrased calligraphy) encourage the development of these attributes in students?
Tairiku Teshima, 2008, Rinsho practice with
fude (bamboo brush), sumi (stick ink) and suzuri (grinding stone)
Hitsu i:The spirit of the brush
One important goal in both traditional Shodo and the post WWII Shosho is the “education of the human spirit” and the expression of the spirit through the study and execution of calligraphy.” For centuries, young people have studied the art of calligraphy in both China and Japan with the idea that it reforms and refines the heart of the person. Learning to control one’s self – the emotions of the heart and the muscles of the body – in order to practice and master the writing of a character is the means by which this refinement appears.
Early Chinese scholars referred to brush writing using concepts similar to the discipline and courage of a warrior.
The Brush: The brush is like a halberd which a knight takes into battle.
“Phoenix #2,” Koji Kakinuma
Learning how to select and grind the ink, reflecting on the qualities of the ink that are produced and the amount of water to use to create the works are important cognitive practices.
The Ink: The ink is made from soot from specific woods. The depth and color of
ink depends on what kind of tree is burned.
The soot from the burning wood is collected and mixed with either an oil or resin base to create a clay-like consistency. It is then pressed into a mold with and allowed to dry.
The art of grinding the ink is a meditative practice.
The Suzuri (Ink Stone): The Suzuri is often hand- cut and polished from a stone similar to slate.
When grinding the ink, the hand moves in a repeated circular pattern, always in the same direction. Shosho artists explain that it is the heart of gratitude for the ink and stone during the grinding of the ink that strongly influences the quality of ink.
Washi (Japanese paper) has been made by hand for centuries.
The Washi (Japanese paper):
The relationship between
the washi (paper) and the sumi (ink) is important aesthetically, as the artist constructs a mental image of the work.
Copying the work of one’s teacher or “artistic master” is a daily practice of discipline and virtue called “Rinsho.”