7/14/2006

Artless Art, part II

(If you have not yet read my post Artless Art, do so before continuing with the current post)

I will work backwards from the passages that I excerpted in my previous post and first look at this:

I had to admit to the master that this interpretation made me more confused than ever. "For ultimately," I said, "I draw the bow and loose the shot in order to hit the target. The drawing is thus a means to an end, and I cannot lose sight of this connection. The child knows nothing of this, but for me the two things cannot be disconnected."

"The right art," cried the Master, "is purposeless, aimless! The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen."
I can't do a better job than the Master at describing the concept (I am no master), but I will try to add a little bit and relate it to trumpet. The preceding passage gets to the heart of the title of my post, Artless Art, which certainly sounds nonsensical at first. Zen has been called the "everyday mind," which basically means that tasks are carried out without unnecessary analysis and concern. The body does many complex things when eating or talking, yet we do not concern ourselves with interfering in the process. When we are hungry we eat, when we need to communicate we talk. The body is capable of great things if we don't get in the way, which is where artless art comes in.

When we think of art we rarely think of it is being a normal, everyday occurrence. It is given an importance above the everyday, and therefore we analyze our actions more, and consciously get involved in the process, which only interferes with what the body is capable of doing (if you tense up before you play a note you are getting involved in the process). Artless art occurs therefore when art ceases to be treated differently than the everyday, when you have no more desire to tense up or worry about the results from playing trumpet than sitting down. I wrote more about this previously, before I started learning about Zen.

And now the first part of the excerpt hopefully makes more sense:
"I understand well enough," I said, "that the hand mustn't be opened with a jerk if the shot is not to be spoiled. But however I set about it, it always goes wrong. If I clench my hand as tightly as possible, I can't stop it shaking when I open my fingers. If, on the other hand, I try to keep it relaxed, the bowstring is torn from my grasp before the full stretch is reached-unexpextedly, it is true, but still too early. I am caught between these two kinds of failure and see no way of escape." "You must hold the drawn bowstring," answered the Master, "like a little child holding the proffered finger. It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist. And when it lets the finger go, there is not the slightest jerk. Do you know why? Because a child doesn't think: I will now let go of the finger in order to grasp this other thing. Completely unself-consciously, without purpose, it turns from one to the other, and we would say that it was playing with the things, if it were not equally true that the things are playing with the child."

"Maybe I understand what you are hinting at with this comparison," I remarked. "But am I not in an entirely different situation? When I have drawn the bow, the moment comes when I feel: unless the shot comes at once I shan't be able to endure the tension. And what happens then? Merely that I get out of breath. So I must loose the shot at once whether I want to or not, because I can't wait for it any longer."

"You have described only too well," replied the Master, "where the difficulty lies. Do you want to know why you cannot wait for the shot and why you get out of breath before it has come? The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You do not wait for fullfillment, but brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth something yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way-like the hand of a child. Your hand does not burst open like the skin of a ripe fruit."
When you realize that playing trumpet is just an everyday task you can let go like a child. There is no need to hold your air back after an inhale, no need to build up pressure, no need to tense the face. Breathe in and let go. Let the sound take you by suprise as though you are just an observer and vividly imagine the sound that you want the player to sound like.

Again, I would recommend getting a copy of the book yourself.

(update 9/12) Continue to Artless Art, part III.

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