4. Retrospective Wisdom

When I was in elementary school, the calligraphy brush I was using for shodo became worn down, and I asked my mother to buy me a new one. She replied, “Kobo does not choose his brushes,”* and refused to buy me a replacement. I can’t imagine she fully understood the expression when she used it.

 *note: Kobo does not choose his brushes. Kobo, also known as Kukai, was a master calligrapher. Because he was so skilled, it is said that he could create masterpieces out of even the humblest of brushes.

It’s been over ten years since I took up art, and I have only now begun to understand the deep connection between artistic creation and the saying “Kobo does not choose his brushes.” Modern times, with its machines and tools, including computers, has made life easier for humans. At the same time, these modern tools have a man-made purpose built into them, from the very moment they are born.

In contrast, a worn down brush will produce lines nobody can anticipate. Let’s think about it. When you’re about to draw a line with a new brush, you can imagine what sort of line will result from it. There’s nothing more boring for an artist.

Not being able to imagine what sort of line will result from dragging the brush across paper – this is the most extraordinary excitement for me. Only through creating artwork have I come to understand that “Kobo does not choose his brushes” speaks to the nature of artistic creation.

I’ve experienced many epiphanies like this through drawing every day. I call this “retrospective wisdom.”

When I begin drawing, there is no wisdom about color, shape, paper, paint, myself as an artist, my relationship with art, art itself, art’s relation to human society… All of this materializes as wisdom at the moment of the artwork’s completion. (Japanese site)


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