08 November 2016

Leave the room

Last week at the Royal Drawing School I was talking for some time with a young man about life, art and T'ai Chi. At some point he paraphrased this wonderful quote from the US painter Philip Guston, and I have tracked it down for you. 

"I believe it was John Cage who once told me, 'When you start working, everybody is in your studio- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you're lucky, even you leave.'"

- Philip Guston

It's a great observation of Cage's, and a really helpful way to aproach art, music, T'ai Chi or writing, in fact anything of consequence. Copying is an essential part of learning. However, eventually in T'ai Chi when we have stopped aping our teacher, worrying about other people doing it better than us, being self conscious, having ideas about what good practice is, and so on ad infinitum... we may get a bit of luck and finally practice our art without getting in our own way. In fact, what we habitually regard as our 'self' is in no way essential to doing good T'ai Chi. If you can 'leave the room' and yet be present, that would really be to embody the classic exhortation 'Forget self, become one with the Tao'. 

Of course, to quote another equally famous T'ai Chi maxim: 'This truly is not easy'. 

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