It’s traditional Japanese black ink painting art, also known as suibokuga or zen-ga. Originated in China during Tang dynasty it was then introduced to Korea and Japan via sea trade exchange, brought by Buddhist monks of the Chan (Japanese: Zen) sect. This 2000 year old art form was mastered by Buddhist monks and their Zen doctrine that gave a new insight on this art.
Zen teachings stated that through meditation, self-consciousness and self-discipline one is able to reach enlightenment (Japanese: satori), where one sees the true nature of things as it is. Zen Masters dedicated themselves to the art form with spiritual intensity through long years of serious reflection and strict discipline.
The monks adhered to a rigorous schedule of meditation in preparation for painting. Entering a deep contemplative state was at the core of the creative process: preparing the ink-stone, grinding the sumi ink, loading the brush (fude), releasing the brush stroke on rice paper or silk scroll. Mastering the nuances of the black sumi ink was more difficult than painting with colour and required consummate skill.
One line means one brush stroke, and each stroke is a separate entity. There is no room for errors, and all is about the mastery of manipulating with the shades of grey. Each painting has an aim. It is to suggest a path through life for those who know how to find it. Often times paintings are decorated with calligraphy, that, among other information, provides with hints. Ink paintings are full of symbolism, and hidden meanings. Even the white space surrounding the main theme, is there to guide and whisper about the true meaning of the painting.
Throughout its long and venerable history, Sumi-e has been held in high esteem and became a powerful way to inculcate the values of Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct. For the swordsman, composure on the brink of battle had its artistic parallel in the calm and tranquillity essential before the fearless release of a brush stroke. Embodying the honourable ancient warrior codes, Sumi-e was a metaphor for the ephemeral world of the courageous Samurai swordsman.
Zen is about simplicity, ritual free existence, reaching the goal via unsophisticated and most natural route. Without Zen, activities such as tea ceremony, ikebana, or Noh , Japanese musical drama, would have never been known.
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