“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.)