THE FOUR MANIFESTATIONS OF BEAUTY


sachi
“Sachiko With Bamboo” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

“With any form of beauty, there are four levels of ability. This is true of painting, calligraphy, literature, music, dance. The first level is Competent.

We were looking at a page that showed two identical renderings of a bamboo grove, a typical painting, well done, realistic, interesting in the detail of double lines, conveying a sense of strength and longevity. Competence is the ability to draw the same thing over and over in the same strokes, with the same force, the same rhythm, the same trueness. This kind of beauty, however, is ordinary.

The second level is Magnificent. We were looking a another painting of several stalks of bamboo. This one goes beyond skill. Its beauty is unique. And yet it is simpler. It conveys both strength and solitude. The lesser painter would be able to capture one quality but not the other.

The third level is Divine. The leaves of bamboo are now shadows blown by an invisible wind, and the stalk is there mostly by suggestion of what is missing. And yet the shadows are more alive than the original leaves that obscured the light. A person seeing this would be wordless to describe how this is done. Try as he might, the same painter could never again capture the feeling of this painting, only a shadow of the shadow.

The fourth level is greater than this, and it is within each mortal’s nature to find it. We sense it only if we do not try to sense it. It occurs without motivation or desire or knowledge of what may result. It is pure. It is what innocent children have.

Turning the page was a painting called Inside the Middle of a Bamboo Stalk. . It is the simplicity of being within, no reason or explanation for being there. It is the natural wonder that anything exists in relation to another, the viewer to the painting.”

This fourth level is called Effortlessness. It is like the effortlessness with which one falls in love, as if actually being two stalks of bamboo bent toward each other by chance of the wind. The two have become inseparably one.

(With thanks to Amy Tan for borrowing some of her words.)

CHILDREN OF THE DESERT


While attending a conference in New Mexico some years ago, my friend Georgia Abeita and I were pleased to be invited to a celebration where numerous young dancers performed in the costume of their various tribes.

There was lots of green chile stew and fry bread, and great platters of melon of all sorts.  There were dozens of displays of artwork for sale, including great pottery, basketry and blankets.  Far too much to take in in an afternoon although we gave it a good shot, and ended up happily leaving a little money by the end of the day.

But the excitement of the day for me came with the colorful dancers, with their feathers, beadwork and deerskin boots all moving in unison to the insistent beat of the drummers who sat alongside the circle of dancers.  Lots of tribal elders had their usual suspicious frowns, watching to make sure no one was photographing, which is always a bit nerve-racking, as you need to keep your cameras out of sight until the dance is over.

There were young men and women from all over the Southwest mingling and laughing together as young kids do until the serious business of dance began.  Then they arranged themselves naturally into the circle dance and gracefully flowed into the age-old steps with lovely looks of concentration on their beautiful faces.  The various tribes and villages were recognizable not only by their dress, but sometimes by their distinctive features.  Pueblo, Kiowa, Plains Indians of many tribes were represented, and the color was amazing as they passed by.

At the end of the dance, when talking to some of the dancers, I was given permission to photograph, and came away with these two young people which I painted when I returned to my studio.

The sweetness of the girl contrasted greatly with the wonderfully arrogant expression of the boy, who had not not yet  become confident in his young manhood.

O’Odham Tash  watercolor painting by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen                                                                                         Black Eagle, Kiowa  watercolor by KSR