Taiji and panting

12.30.22

However, after spending time with this discomfort, I’ve accepted the situation and realized it’s simpler than I thought.

Finally starting this essay first makes me think of all the times I meant to start it, but never did because something felt in the way. I think the biggest stone in my path has been the idea that both the practices of Taiji and painting are generally misunderstood, or misrepresented. It has been hard to sidestep the feeling that when I say “painting” or “Tai Chi”, most readers will picture an activity that doesn’t contain any of the important stuff that I want to talk about. How to start writing while I try to wriggle out of the beret and smock and black turtleneck of the serious painter, only to find myself still wearing the silk pajamas of the enlightened martial artist? I am uncomfortable in both of those outfits.

However, after spending time with this discomfort, I’ve accepted the situation and realized it’s simpler than I thought.

There is, of course, no “real” painting and there is no “real” Taiji. Both practices contain within them a deep and spiriling path which you can follow for your entire life, should you choose to do so (and continue to choose). That path is sometimes so blocked and overgrown it seems to have ended, and other times so astoundingly clear there seems no other way you could ever go. Go far enough down this path, and it will be littered with supplies that seemed indispensible at first, only to become the very obstacles preventing any forward progress. “Real” Taiji is not a certain set of movements taught by a certain school, and “real” painting is not a certain method that produces certain kinds of paintings. The “real” work of either practice is to find and follow this path within them, and keep finding and keep following.

This path is most of what I want to talk about when I want to talk about Taiji and painting, but not all of it. A lot of my previous writing is about this – looking for the patterns of study and work that seem to be shared between artistic practices led me to look deeper to eventually develop the theory of conceptual labor. These patterns and ideas will show up throughout this essay, but my entire reason for writing this is to talk about the flesh-and-blood of painting and Taiji (as I see them), not just to compare their skeletons.

So the real thing that we are looking for in each practice is not a thing at all. It is an encounter. An ever-refreshing moment of meeting the history, the materials, the methods, and the practice of both disciplines with the honesty and self-awareness that allows you to follow the paths of either discipline where they will lead you. This is not a passive process – you need to look inward for why to move forward as much as you look outward for how.

So it is neither unnatural nor dogmatic to start out with a rejection of “misunderstanding” or “misrepresentating” Taiji or painting if we are simply not-embracing anything that will prevent us from having that encounter with either activity. That is what I want for you as a reader of this essay – to find a way to encounter seeing or movement can access the power of painting or Taiji, regardless of where you are starting. In general, I think it will be easier to do that if you bring as little with you as possible.

Whatever you know or don’t know about painting or Taiji, you and I have the same task. We must know these things in the way that you know the view before you on a sunny day when everything seems solid and separate and clear, and resist being satisfied with the list-of-correct-information way of knowing that we use to access our bank accounts or fill out a form. The latter kind of knowledge is useful and important, but here only as a way to access the former.

Start at Chapter 1

I started practicing Taiji for about 17 years ago, and I’ve been painting for roughly twice that time. Or maybe it’s the same amount of time. I started Taiji while I was in art school, and the kind of painting I did in my school studios was so radically different than the kind of painting I did in my parents’ basement when I was a teenager that we could call it something else entirely. But the same could be said for how I do Taiji now as compared to how I did Taiji 17 years ago. My sifu, Jaime Tan, has been practicing for nearly 40 years now – where does he start? What does he know?

“Start at chapter one – maintain the up and down.”

  • What is chapter one in painting?
  • probably see clearly?
  • whatever it is, Ithink this whole process gets us to wuji

Spell it T-a-i-j-i. But that’s not what we’re doing anyway

as soon as you reach resolution, you want to touch it and unresolve it

time erases all your taiji work. it does that for all art too, it just takes longer

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