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11 March 2004 @ 12:44 pm
Taoism: The Uncarved Block  
A great carving is done without cutting. - Lao Tzu (28: Le Guin)
I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don't need. - Auguste Rodin
Trying to be is limiting. - Boo Tzu

In Taoism, the uncarved block has infinite potential. The lack of definition makes it incredibly useful, because it's ready to be anything. The end product is not as useful, because it only serves one purpose. (Yes, yes, the functional piece is more pragmatic, but the philosophy is sound.)

One of the greater "sins", if you will, (Taoism doesn't have a concept of sin, but it's clear that the more you strive against the natural flow of things, the messier your life will get) is to take an uncarved block and insist on it becoming something specific. What if, as you carve, you find imperfections that ruin your intended piece? A faulty crystal structure that'll shatter the axe on its first use, a cloud of coral in jade intended for a locust figurine that looks remarkably like a woman trapped in jade. Your locust will always look like the text written over re-used papyrus; convoluted, difficult, forced. You will strain to see the locust, after your eyes initially and easily register a now maimed woman, a locust cut deep into her body.

There were, and I'm sure are, artists who see the woman and bring her forth, even if they'd initially intended a locust. The locust is discarded for the woman, because the artist never stops seeing the piece before them instead of the vision in their head. It's a different kind of art, very Taoist, and one I adore.

In conclusion, Don't Get Lost in the Locust.


I've had the good fortune of seeing several pieces, mostly ancient Chinese jade, where the artist was the instrument of the medium. It is a beautiful sight. It also really brought home the concept of properly respecting the uncarved block when you decide it's time to make it into something.

There are several such pieces at the East Asian Art Museum in Bath, England.

At the Seattle Asian Art Museum, there are a few snuff bottles and 3 very noteworthy figurines as well as several honourable mentions.

Noteworthy:
The rams. When I saw this one, taking advantage of a dark cloud of brown (perhaps agate) in the jade, I thought to myself "How Taoist" and then, peering at the top, I saw a Yin-Yang carved in. I laughed out loud, self-congratulatory. An older woman, mid 70s, nearby asked what I was laughing about and I explained. She and I began a passionate conversation about the artistry of obeying instead of challenging natural mediums.

The little boy and his bull. A dark brown clouds the top and bottom of this jade piece, forming the hooves and feet of bull and boy, and the straw hat of the boy, as well as the horns and burden of firewood on the bull's back. (Maybe it's not a bull, I guess they're not used as pack animals so much, huh? It was a tough looking creature, but I was so busy admiring the flawless transition of color and detail, I confess I didn't notice what kind of animal it was)

The snipe and the oyster. A black snipe crouches on a pure white oyster, trying to crack it open. It's so absurdly well done, and the black and white so pure, that it's startling to discover it's carved from just one piece.

Honourable mentions:
The praying mantis The jade used is a dark green towards the top and fairly white towards the bottom. The mantis is green and the vine it stands on is white, though the figurine doesn't perfectly respect the color boundaries.

Several snuff bottles of agate, jadeite and several other materials, including a stunning rose/purple one where the handles are one color and the bottle another, though it's all from one piece.
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Kburgunder on March 11th, 2004 09:31 pm (UTC)
I saw a Yin-Yang carved in

I have to give the artist some shit, however. The yin-yang is all in the brown area, and did not quite so naturally belong in this figurine as it would have had the yin-yang mapped to the white jade and brown. Nonetheless, I like how it seems so very much to say "I Get the Uncarved Block. See?"
Zen Anarchymetalmensch on March 12th, 2004 02:58 am (UTC)
'I get the uncarved block, see?' That is interesting.

Why not the artist is the uncarved block? The impressive artist brings the image out of the medium, they do not force the medium to become something, yes? The artist returns to the state of waiting for requirement after a task has been done?
Kburgunder on March 12th, 2004 03:08 am (UTC)
This is one of those times where I have no idea what you're trying to say ;)
Zen Anarchymetalmensch on March 12th, 2004 04:22 am (UTC)
I'm trying not to go over the threshold into more words. Any more added and I feel I'd have to drag you off to a dark corner to discuss it and play chess.
danaid_luvdanaid_luv on March 11th, 2004 10:15 pm (UTC)
*nods* I like it. Nice break-down. Sometimes, artwork changes in my hand mid-way, but I usually chalk it up to lack of skill...*s*

(*pssst* Rodin is where I came up w/ my 'name'...I always smile when I see his name mentioned)
Kburgunder on March 11th, 2004 11:34 pm (UTC)
I'm curious - have we met?
danaid_luvdanaid_luv on March 12th, 2004 10:29 pm (UTC)
Um..well, no. But I figured you wouldn't mind a reply... AtticTroll & I are twin cousins...*s*

Pleased to meet you? *extends hand & winks*
Kburgunder on March 12th, 2004 11:12 pm (UTC)
Ah, excellent, I believe I've heard of you :) Hello! Perhaps I'll meet you if you get to Seattle and visit the Merc.
danaid_luvdanaid_luv on March 12th, 2004 11:21 pm (UTC)
*grins* Nip into my journal if you have a moment... (it's all I've spoken about for days...) ...will be there the 18th...a thursday... I'm planning on seeing the Vogue, Merc, and Neighbors, I guess...(N. plays fun 80s, I've been told)

I suppose I'm a little fluffy, but I'm fun, da*mn it! *pant pant* I just have to sometimes remind folk. *s*

...will try to look for you, then...
Kburgunder on March 13th, 2004 01:49 am (UTC)
Neighbours on Thursdays is awesome and I'm almost always there. I have long red hair, skinny chesty white girl, and I dance like a maniac. By the end of the night, I'm usually on the front stage with my ballet buddy, The Todd (not your Todd, though).

What's your real name, if you don't mind my asking? Mine is Kim.
danaid_luvdanaid_luv on March 13th, 2004 08:57 am (UTC)
*grins* Sounds good. Busty, skinny, red-head... You paint quite a picture...well, that, and the dancing on the stage w/ a lampshade on your head...

Um...how about I introduce myself when we meet? I'll be the tall, skinny, not-so-busty-but-I-like-to-think-of-it-as-a-dancer-physique girl. *wry grin*
Kburgunder on March 13th, 2004 04:58 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a plan :)
(Deleted comment)
Stax: Wynnestaxxy on March 12th, 2004 01:53 am (UTC)
the art and the flow
the art that flows comes faster and smooth than the art that is forced.

which is why I will set pieces aside for years. Sometimes the flow just stops for no apparent reason. It is better, I have found, to let the piece wait for the flow to return than to try and find the flow again.

it doesn't really matter to me if the art is poetry, sculpture, music, literature, drawings, paintings, or photography (while there are other arts, these are the ones *I* do the most).

This is also why I play a lot of video games, oddly enough. it is a good rest period for me and is very meditative. It clears my brain and I can refocus anew on things after that. :)
Vulture: posedvulture23 on March 12th, 2004 09:16 am (UTC)
m_cobweb and I just watched My Architect, and there was a segment where someone was talking about Louis Kahn's work. According to this other architect, Kahn believed in taking whatever happened with the materials, and emphasizing that, making it your own. If there's scars and ridges in concrete, say, then instead of trying to hide them, he'd make sure that they were everywhere, that they were part of the design. M and I looked at each other at this point, and said "How Taoist" -- it made me think very much about the uncarved block. (Kahn was apparently quite noted for emphasizing that one must "respect the materials", and use the right forms for the materials that had been selected...)