Interpreting The Tao ‘The Way’

The Tao

Sie Ho’s Six Laws

These are guiding universal principles of creative guidance.  The straight interpretation from the Chinese doesn’t quite get us to a point of understanding without some additional explanation.

  • 1st. Consonance of spirit engenders the movement (of life)
  • 2nd. The law of bones by means of the brush
  • 3rd. Form represented through conformity with beings.
  • 4th. According to the similitude (of objects) distribute colour.
  • 5th. Arrange the lines and attribute to them their hierarchic places.
  • 6th. Propagate forms by making them pass into the drawing.

I think everyone would agree that these translations seem a bit cryptic and need to be clarified to be useful to the artist.  

1st. Consonance of spirit engenders the movement of life 

RHYTHM – It would seem that the movement of life refers to the universal rhythms and harmony contained with-in.  The painter must abstract the gesture from the subject, them must feel the subterranean flow of energy contained in the time and space of the pose. To understand the spirit of the pose one must understand where the gesture is coming from and where it is going.  Have the model step in and out of the pose a couple of times before starting to draw.  Another requirement for understanding the movement/rhythm of the post is to walk around the model observing the pose from multiple angles.  Observation the light contouring around the form.  UNDERSTANDING WHAT THE MODEL IS DOING

2nd. The law of bones by means of the brush

STRUCTURE – Bones here refers to structure or construction.  It is necessary to understand the armature of the pose which is the bony armature of the skeleton.  Most master draughtsman agree that one cannot draw of paint that which one does not know.  We need to understand how these bones are are flowing through space.  UNDERSTANDING THE SUPPORT MECHANISMS.  Media is given a special place of relevance in Eastern traditions of painting.  It is not simple the means by which something is created but part to the creation itself.  There is as much aesthetic beauty in the media as well as the subject. This is far different than much of what is currently being practiced in the Atelier movement as we know it today. 

3rd. Form represented through conformity with beings.

MASS CONCEPTION – Breaking down the subject into it most representative form units,  Simplification of the masses, rounding the square and squaring the round.  EXTRACTING THE MOST RELEVANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE SUBJECT.

4th. According to the similitude (of objects) distribute colour.

VALUE – This translation requires a good deal of explanation. Tradition Chinese painting sees value and colour as one and the same, they don’t have a concept of local colour in same manor as we do it the west. When talking of distribution here Sie is referring to the objects position in space, he is talking about using value/colour to create the positioning of elements in space as it relates to how they are positioned in nature. Tradition ChInese and Japanese painting doesn’t involve linear perspective it creates the illusion of space via atmospheric perspective. USE VALUE, HUE AND SATURATION TO CREATE DEPTH.  

5th. Arrange the lines and attribute to them their hierarchic places.

USE LINE TO ACCENTUATE THE DEPTH CREATED BY VALUE – Western art places line ahead of value in the hierarchy of procedure, it is exactly the opposite in most Oriental traditions.  The Chinese place value ahead of line in order of importance, they view value as doing the bulk of the work in terms of creating shape, form, and depth.  Line is used not to delineate, as in western cultures, but to accentuate the feeling of depth.  Lines, like their big brother value, have a job to do, their character, weight and attitude should reflect their position, direction, and function.  Lines are not used to outline but to create illusion.  ‘NOT ALL LINES ARE CREATED EQUAL, AND SHOULDN’T BE.

6th. Propagate forms by making them pass into the drawing.

THE GESTALT – This one is easy to explain but not easy to do.  This is about being selective, about what to leave out more than what to put in. It is about getting all the horses to work a team.  A great drawing is not great because of what is in it, it is great because of what the draugthsman choose to leave out.  One needs to decide what the drawing is supposed to accomplish and get rid of or subduing everything that gets in the way of the task.  We could easily get confused with the idea of finish here but finish is a different problem all together. This philosophy has to do with creating a painting and nothing to do with painting a picture. It is not about telling the whole story it is about creating a WHOLE DRAWING.   

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