Sunday, June 1, 2008

Stephen Fabian Review of "Brush Mediation"

Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony is out of print, but the complete book was recently reissued in H. E. Davey's new work The Japanese Way of the Artist. You can get your own copy of The Japanese Way of the Artist here:

Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony

"Shodo ideally represents one of the greatest levels of harmony between thought and action: it both serves as a mechanism for depicting this unity and supplies a path for cultivating it."

H. E. Davey

This brief excerpted quote is a great summary of the focus of H. E. Davey's new book. In it, he not only describes how working with black ink, brush, and white paper reflects the level of personal integration and harmony, but how to use this medium to integrate and harmonize the self. His insights into these processes are rich and clearly expressed, and beautifully illustrated: readers can carry away both inspiring examples of quality shodo (Japanese calligraphy), and exercises with which to begin their own progress on this Way.

After a short preface and introductory linguistic orientation, the work unfolds in four chapters. The first, "The Language of Shodo," might be considered the roots: it traces the historical basis of Japanese writing and calligraphy, then explains several fundamental aesthetic principles and spiritual concepts--such as wabi, sabi, shibumi, shibui, ki, and hara--that underlie this and other traditional Japanese arts. Chapter 2, "Mind & Body Connection," is the central stem or trunk that grows from these roots and is the support or core from which the later material grows. In it are included specific "experiments" to help relax, focus, and connect our mental and physical abilities, critical for artistic expression via a brush with black ink on white paper.

Branching from this trunk is "Uniting Mind, Body & Brush" (Chapter 3) in which a further series of "experiments" walk us through preparations for actually putting ink on paper, including correct posture and manipulation of the artistic tools. The final chapter solidifies our understanding of how critical is a unity of mind, body, and medium in brush work, as we learn for ourselves that as a medium, black ink brushed on white paper is a valuable and incomparable insight into our very being. In this medium there is no going back, no alterations, no corrections: your character and artistry are starkly revealed with each stroke. From selecting the items to be used, to grinding your own ink, to instruction in the shape and flow of basic strokes, this chapter helps cultivate the reader's own blossoming in this meditative art. Sources for necessary materials and suggestions on finding a qualified instructor, glossary, index, and brief afterword round out the text.

The illustrations accompanying the text are certainly among its greatest attractions, and at the same time substantiate the advice Mr. Davey has to share with us: as an award-winning calligrapher, he can clearly "walk his talk." His illustrations are beautiful and inspirational, full of vibrant life and clarity. Their quality, as much as his compelling language, encourages us into a deeper unity of self as accomplished through regular study and practice of this traditional Japanese art. While I have some reservations about the direct correlation between an artist's character and the painted strokes on a page, it seems clear that challenging oneself along the "Way of Calligraphy" has many and deep benefits for artistic expression and the cultivation of self. Anyone interested in such pursuits should do him/herself a favor and read this book.

About the Reviewer: Dr. Stephen Fabian is the author of "Clearing Away Clouds: Nine Lessons for Life from the Martial Arts" (Weatherhill). Dr. Fabian's background is in anthropology. Having lived in Japan, he has had considerable exposure to Japanese culture, along with over two decades of training in Japanese and Korean martial arts and ways.