BOOK REVIEW: Zen Buddhism and Its Relation to Art by Arthur Waley

Zen Buddhism and Its Relation to ArtZen Buddhism and Its Relation to Art by Arthur Waley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Project Gutenberg (FREE)

This essay reviews the history and key personalities of Zen Buddhism, and then has a quite brief discussion of Zen influenced art. The thin book at its most interesting when it discusses Zen Buddhist teachings by way of the life events and sayings of its historical figures (e.g. Bodhidharma.) It does have some nice straightforward explanations of concepts.

What’s not to like? First, it’s just an essay, so if you’re expecting a full book, you might be displeased. Second, the opening discussion about the sectarian divides of Buddhism is very biased in favor of Mahayana Buddhism and against Theravada. (Of course, if one is reading about a Mahayana sect, e.g. Zen, one probably expects as much.) Finally, the title might lead one to think the book will help one understand the Zen mind’s influence on creativity, but it’s not a great source for that.

If you know what to expect, this little piece has something fine to offer. Waley was a prolific translator and a renowned expert on things Asian (particularly poetry,) and he has an insightful way of communicating difficult concepts.


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BOOK REVIEW: Drawing is for Everyone by Kateri Ewing

Drawing Is for Everyone: Simple Lessons to Make Your Creative Practice a Daily Habit - Explore Infinite Creative Possibilities in Graphite, Colored Pencil, and InkDrawing Is for Everyone: Simple Lessons to Make Your Creative Practice a Daily Habit – Explore Infinite Creative Possibilities in Graphite, Colored Pencil, and Ink by Kateri Ewing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: July 20, 2021

True to its title, this book presents an excellent set of lessons for rank amateurs to develop drawing techniques in a way that helps keep their inner critic from being their undoing. It does this by using mostly abstract and still life subjects as a means to convey the technique, such that the early lessons in each section aren’t expected to look like anything recognizable, and there is not the disappointment of off-kilter drawings. [There are some little birdy drawings in the higher numbered lessons, but nothing particularly complicated.]

The book consists 21 lessons evenly divided between three parts: graphite pencil, colored pencil, and ink. Each lesson gives some background information, presents the list of needed supplies, provides step-by-step textual instructions matched with a series of drawings to graphically demonstrate said step, and a section with creative options that show what some of the author’s students produced with the same exercise. This is also a nice feature for those with an intense inner critic, a tendency to compulsively copycat, and / or a conviction that they aren’t capable of drawing. It does this by presenting numerous different ways a project could turn out – all attractive but all very different.

Besides the lessons, there’s a brief introduction to set up the project. And, in addition to the aforementioned drawings, there are numerous graphics, such as photographs of still life subjects and supplies.

I thought this book was smartly arranged and organized. It’s a small book, but presents the dabbler with all they need to start building their skills, plus it’s beautifully presented. If you’re a neophyte looking to get into drawing but worried that you have not talent for it, this is an excellent place to start.

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BOOK REVIEW: Teaching Artfully by Meghan Parker

Teaching ArtfullyTeaching Artfully by Meghan Parker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: May 4, 2021 in India (It may be out already where you live.)

 

While I’m not an art teacher and this book is clearly directed at art teachers, I took away a number of useful lessons nevertheless. The book is laid out as a comic book, and is meant to extol the virtues of that artform while at the same time conveying knowledge about art, teaching, and the teaching of art.

The book is organized into seven chapters that are loosely themed according to the seven elements of art: line, color, form, texture, shape, space, and value [in the sense of the level of lightness / darkness.] The connection between the artistic characteristic and what is conveyed in its chapter is more readily apparent for some chapters than for others.

Chapter one (Line) both presents how the book came to be and what the intention behind it is, and also has something to say about process. The second chapter is entitled “Color,” and it touches upon issues such as the nature of aesthetics, the value of the notion of embodiment to the artistic endeavor, and the role of imagination. Chapter three is “Form” and it explores how time, space, and story play into conveying knowledge, as well as offering insight into how form influences perception. The next chapter is “Texture, and it has a lot to do with interaction and human relationships as they pertain to the art classroom. “Shape” investigates the issue of boundaries, such as what really differentiates artist from non-artist, the grammar of comics, and the role of the teacher. It also presents a number projects that might be introduced in the classroom or in one’s self-study. “Space” is probably the most literal title as it discusses the classroom space as well as the more figurative space given to students. The final chapter (Value) has a lot to say about frames of reference and the analogy of painting frames to the frames that individuals operate in and see the world through.

There is a Conclusion that provides some summation of ideas, and there are also notes and a page of references. This book shined a spotlight on a few other books that intrigue me, but that would have been completely outside my awareness — given I don’t read much about the visual arts, but I’m increasingly finding it to be a topic of interest.

As I said, even though its outside my bailiwick, I took away some intriguing lessons from this book — particularly about how variations in the elements of art encourage different emotional and psychological responses. There are a few excellent quotes as well. These powerful lessons weren’t in every frame. A fair amount of space is devoted to both platitudes and [hopefully] cathartic rants about the challenge of being a teacher, and particularly a teacher of art.

The book is festively drawn and colored and (as befits a book focusing on the visual arts) I got even more out of how ideas were portrayed visually than how they were discussed textually. The book takes a light and whimsical approach, and is pretty to look at.

If you’re interested in learning more about the visual arts, I’d highly recommend picking this book up.

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DAILY PHOTO: Danubius Fountain Sculpture, Budapest

Taken in December of 2019 in Budapest’s Erzsebet Ter