I saw a statue of Confucius in Manhattan Chinatown’s Confucius Plaza on my first visit to the United States.  This came as a surprise, as I was not used to finding Confucius in a public place.  Traditionally, the image of Confucius was everywhere in China, a temple to Confucius in every city, but that all disappeared during the Cultural Revolution and the campaign to criticize Lin Biao and Confucius.  I had never imagined encountering a tribute to the Sage on this side of the Pacific.  It was unexpected to find him standing there, large as life, watching the traffic come and go. 

Confucius, born in 551 B.C., was truly one of the greatest Chinese.  His philosophy was not well received while he was alive, so he was not particularly successful in politics.  As a result, most of his effort went toward teaching and organizing the writings of the past.  He described himself as “never bored with learning, never tired of teaching, so absorbed I forget to eat, so content I cannot recall worries.  I don’t notice I’m getting old.”  His spirit and thought have been admired for over 2,500 years. 

There is little mention of art in his writings and the writings of others about him.  In the Analects, he wrote: “Before you paint, you must have a blank surface on which to begin.”  Elsewhere he stated, “Wildness results when nature overpowers adornment.  Superficiality results when adornment overpowers nature.  One can only become a gentleman when adornment and nature are balanced.”  In this, he was reflecting on how to be a person, but I think the statement applies equally to art. 

I enjoy reading the Analects because, although the sayings are short and simple, they are rich in meaning.  They make me think about how to be a person and how to do my art, balancing adornment and nature, art and artlessness.  

                                                                Mansheng Wang

孔子曰 “ 质胜文则野, 文胜质则史, 文质彬彬,然后君子。”   做人作画皆可以此为鉴。           


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photo by Lisa Tipps