A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains

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    The Art Snob can be recognized in the home by the quick look he gives the pictures on your walls, quick but penetrating, as though he were undressing them. This is followed either by complete and pained silence or a comment such as ‘That’s really a very pleasant little water color you have there.’

    The Art Snob will stand back from a picture at some distance, his head cocked slightly to one side. … After a long period of gazing (during which he may occasionally squint his eyes), he will approach to within a few inches of the picture and examine the brushwork; he will then return to his former distant position, give the picture another glance and walk away.
    Russell Lynes, Snobs (1950)



    T’ang Yin’s “Dreaming of immortality in a thatched hut”

    scolar immortal

    “In a 16th-century painting illustrating a Daoist poem, a scholar asleep in his thatched cottage dreams he is an immortal, floating over the mountains.”






    Alan Watts on chinese art: “…in chinese painting, man is always seen as in nature, rather than dominating it. You get a painting entitled “Poet Drinking by Moonlight”, …and you see a great landscape… and after some search with a magnifying glass, at last you see the poet, stuck away in a corner somewhere, drinking wine…”



    Endearing lectures on Chinese painting history, by James Cahill, art historian and professor emeritus at UC Berkley. He is in his home office in Vancouver, and talks while showing photos of people and art treasures

    – A Pure and Remote View – Visualizing early chinese landscape painting





    James Cahill is not so fond of the Thousand Li of rivers and mountains…

    he talks about it from 10:00



    Ma Liang and the magic brush

    He painted many pictures and took them to various neighborhoods to sell. Because he was afraid people would know of him, he wouldn’t allow the things he painted to come to life. To do this, the things in the paintings would either be missing a mouth or would have a broken leg.




    “… one flaw throws the loveliness of [everything else] into focus. I remember reading that Shakers deliberately introduced a mistake into the things they made, to show that man shouldn’t aspire to the perfection of God. Flawed can be more perfect than perfection.”
    ― Gretchen Rubin


    Moccasins like these might take hundreds of hours to make.
    As they created intricate geometric patterns out of thousands of tiny beads, Native American women would intentionally string a wrong-colored bead into an otherwise perfect pattern. This was called the spirit bead. The spirit bead was placed in an otherwise flawless piece of art as an act of humility, a way of recognizing the inherent imperfection of humans. Presuming that a human could create something perfect would be an affront to the true perfection of the gods.


    “Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest,” details Robyn Griggs Lawrence, “the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree …. the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It’s a richly mellow beauty that’s striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time…”


    gold dish



    In praise of shadows – Junichiro Tanizaki

    Paper, I understand, was invented by the Chinese; but Western paper is to us no more than something to be used, while the texture of Chinese paper and Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose. Even the same white could as well be one color for Western paper and another for our own. Western paper turns away the light, while our paper seems to take it in, to envelop it gently, like the soft surface of a first snowfall. It gives off no sound when it is crumpled or folded, it is quiet and pliant to the touch as the leaf of a tree.

    As a general matter we find it hard to be really at home with things that shine and glitter. The Westerner uses silver and steel and nickel tableware, and polishes it to a fine brilliance, but we object to the practice. While we do sometimes indeed use silver for teakettles, decanters, or sake cups, we prefer not to polish it. On the contrary, we begin to enjoy it only when the luster has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina. Almost every householder has had to scold an insensitive maid who has polished away the tarnish so patiently waited for.




    Every time I am shown to an old, dimly lit, and, I would add, impeccably clean toilet in a Nara or Kyoto temple, I am impressed with the singular virtues of Japanese architecture. The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet is truly a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden. The novelist Natsume Sōseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, “a physiological delight” he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves.

    As I have said there are certain prerequisites: a degree of dimness, absolute cleanliness, and quiet so complete one can hear the hum of a mosquito. I love to listen from such a toilet to the sound of softly falling rain, especially if it is a toilet of the Kantō region, with its long, narrow windows at floor level; there one can listen with such a sense of intimacy to the raindrops falling from the eaves and the trees, seeping into the earth as they wash over the base of a stone lantern and
    freshen the moss about the stepping stones. And the toilet is the perfect place to listen to the chirping of insects or the song of the birds, to view the moon, or to enjoy any of those poignant moments that mark the change of the seasons. Here, I suspect, is where haiku poets over the ages have come by a great many of their ideas. Indeed one could with some justice claim that of all the elements of Japanese architecture, the toilet is the most aesthetic. Our forebears, making poetry of
    everything in their lives, transformed what by rights should be the most unsanitary room in the house into a place of unsurpassed elegance, replete with fond associations with the beauties of nature. Compared to Westerners, who regard the toilet as utterly unclean and avoid even the mention of it in polite conversation, we are far more sensible and certainly in better taste. The Japanese toilet is, I must admit, a bit inconvenient to get to in the middle of the night, set apart from the main building as it is; and in winter there is always a danger that one might catch cold. But as the poet Saitō Ryoku has said, “elegance is frigid.”


    crystal crapper
    Crystal Crapper outhouse



    Tanizaki’s essay is so beautiful, I keep reading it over and over. AC Grayling calls it a “hymn to nuance”, an exercise in mindfulness. His sensitivity towards his surroundings, in particular the play of shadows and light is amazing.
    Maybe looking within, trying to find stillness in an empty mind is not the way to awareness, but rather a refined sensitivity towards the outside world? Seeing the world the way he sees it will never be boring, there is always change, always something to discover…

    Lacquerware decorated in gold is not something to be seen in a brilliant light, to be taken in at a single glance; it should be left in the dark, a part here and a part there picked up by a faint light. Its florid patterns recede into the darkness, conjuring in their stead an inexpressible aura of depth and mystery, of overtones but partly suggested. The sheen of the lacquer, set out in the night, reflects the wavering candlelight, announcing the drafts that find their way from time to time into the quiet room, luring one into a state of reverie. If the lacquer is taken away, much of the spell disappears from the dream world built by that strange light of candle and lamp, that wavering light beating the pulse of the night. Indeed the thin, impalpable, faltering light, picked up as though little rivers were running through the room, collecting little pools here and there, lacquers a pattern on the surface of the night itself.




    The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

    The Tale of Genji is a classic work of Japanese literature written by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century, around the peak of the Heian period. It is sometimes called the world’s first novel, the first modern novel, the first psychological novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic. Notably, the novel also illustrates a unique depiction of the livelihoods of high courtiers during the Heian period wiki





    Sashimono and Mulberry wood…
    …then the wood is carefully rubbed with a leaf of the Muku tree…
    and a deep and dazzling amber gleam emerges…



    Phillip Lapote’s anthology “The Art of the personal essay”:

    2) Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows” is a value-inverting essay, meaning that the writer takes something usually denigrated or despised and shows its worth–or takes something usually valued and cuts it down to size. Compare Tanizaki’s approach with other value-inverting essays: Montaigne’s “Of a Monstrous Child,” Cowley’s “Of Greatness,” Hazlitt’s “On the Pleasure of Hating,” Stevenson’s “An Apology for Idlers,” Chesterton’s “On Running After One’s Hat,” Beerbohm’s “Going for a Walk,” Lopate’s “Against Joie de Vivre.” What elements and/or techniques seem common in this type of essay?


    Lopate’s own essay “Against Joie de Vivre” is also an amusing read…:-)

    4. In the Here-And-Now
    The argument of both the hedonist and the guru is that if we were but to open ourselves to the richness of the moment, to concentrate on the feast before us, we would be filled with bliss. I have lived in the present from time to time, and I can tell you that it is much over-rated.


    He mentions a visit to a painter in Sausalito….

    1. The Houseboat
    I remember the exact year when my dislike for joie de vivre began to crystallize. It was 1969. We had gone to visit an old Greek painter on his houseboat in Sausalito. Old Vartas’s vitality was legendary and it was considered a spiritual honor to meet him, like getting an audience with the Pope. Each Sunday he had a sort of open house, or open boat.

    Well, Vartas is most likely Varda, who shared the houseboat Vallejo with Alan Watts…

    adrien brovier
    Adriaen Brouwer Dune landscape by moonlight



    Where I come from the meal is the result of reflection and study. Menus are prepared in advance, timed to perfection. It is said that without the culinary arts, the crudeness of reality would be unbearable. ~Leopold



    …choco-moo cheesecake…mmm…



    Artisan Yoshio Inoue – Edo Period-style joinery master
    by Michael Kleindl

    Inoue’s style is immaculately restrained. Every piece of furniture is made to emphasize the beauty of the wood, especially the grain, and to not call attention to his skills as an artisan.

    There are two other major sashimono craft traditions in Japan, but they differ from the Edo variety in several ways. Osaka sashimono artisans have long specialized in using foreign wood, such as red sandalwood, rosewood or ebony. Kyoto sashimono is characterized by a more luxurious appearance that sometimes uses mother-of-pearl inlays or colorful lacquers.

    Edo sashimono craftsmen, however, use only wood sourced from within Japan. Their products are made for daily use, simple and stylish, embodying the aesthetic ideal of iki, a cool, chic directness. This is because their traditional customers were samurai, kabuki actors and merchants who wanted to avoid any ostentatiousness.





    One of Li Bai’s best known poems and a good example of his writing is his Drinking Alone by Moonlight (月下獨酌, pinyin: Yuè Xià Dú Zhuó), which has been translated into English by various authors, including this translation, by Arthur Waley:[56]

    花間一壺酒。 A cup of wine, under the flowering trees;
    獨酌無相親。 I drink alone, for no friend is near.
    舉杯邀明月。 Raising my cup I beckon the bright moon,
    對影成三人。 For he, with my shadow, will make three men.
    月既不解飲。 The moon, alas, is no drinker of wine;
    影徒隨我身。 Listless, my shadow creeps about at my side.
    暫伴月將影。 Yet with the moon as friend and the shadow as slave
    行樂須及春。 I must make merry before the Spring is spent.
    我歌月徘徊。 To the songs I sing the moon flickers her beams;
    我舞影零亂。 In the dance I weave my shadow tangles and break.
    醒時同交歡。 While we were sober, three shared the fun;
    醉後各分散。 Now we are drunk, each goes his way.
    永結無情遊。 May we long share our odd, inanimate feast,
    相期邈雲漢。 And meet at last on the Cloudy River of the sky.

    …the cloudy river of the sky…the milky river…

    drinking by moon


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