The monkey is one of the oldest creatures in Chinese mythology and is said to resemble the Creator.
The Spirit Manifest in the Memorial.
ALL ART BEGINS IN THE MIND AND ONE MUST LOOK TO PRE-HISTORY IN ORDER TO FULLY COMPREHEND IT. One must go back in time before civilization some 5000 years ago. One must go back at least 30,000 years or more. One must look at the human species from a different perspective. We are all animals, we are all equal, but over time different varieties of animal have incurred different values. In Western philosophy the animal has instrumental value because it serves the needs and desires of humans. In ancient Chinese philosophy the animal is equal or above humans simply because it arrived on Earth first. In the Taoist tradition all of nature is united into one cosmic whole where each component has equal value. Today, across most of the world values are culturally specific and instrumental, whereby animal life is generally measured for its usefulness. Ancient Chinese art differs because the spirit of the animal is always already present in the human whereby animal ancestors are recognized for their role in guiding the human journey. Geraldine Wogan-Browne embarked on a spiritual journey by following these Chinese traditions. Geraldine Wogan-Browne sought change in the world; she wanted to make a difference and she did so quietly and modestly through her art.
I never met Geraldine Wogan-Browne and only knew her through her art, but what struck me at first glance was her discipline. All forms of achievement require discipline and it is a trait that is also required for happiness and good health. Art provides transcendence; it alters consciousness and acts on the quiescent qualities that are already inherent in the human condition. Hitherto, Geraldine’s traditional Chinese ink drawings encourage the spectator to embark on a similar journey towards quiescence and well-being.
At the time of writing I was given a copy of a small book called ‘Spirit of Nature’ by David M. Bell and James McNeill. The book is a compelling sojourn through the Theory of the Five Elements, in other words a journey through nature. The writers describe how humans gather breath and thus gain the inspiration for life; everything comes into life in a first breath and it leaves with the last. The idea captures the essence of breathing life into art by transcending the archaic subconscious, or by borrowing the best of it in order to be creative.
After reflecting on this notion of art as a living breathing entity I decided to visit Geraldine’s grave. I was there for a while trying to get a sense of how this artist would have wanted me to proceed with telling her story. Everything I had gleaned about Geraldine’s personality suggested she was a very private person, albeit a trait that was juxtaposed with much determination and some gregariousness. I was sure the book was not going to be about the woman, but about the art; or that Spirit that resides within art which always seems to endure. There is nothing more satisfying than being creative and the lesson I would take from this exercise is that knowledge has many pathways and it is not always what one learns that counts, but what one can do with it.
In Chinese art, there is an elevation of the Spirit that is said to enhance the lives of ordinary people, whereby it is believed that all humans can blend with the Spirits of the Immortals; otherwise the ancient ancestors, gods, goddesses, beasts, ghosts, heroes and loved ones of bygone eras.
Like most tales from the past Chinese histories and mythologies have elements of romance as well as a sense of the rational and the real, an incongruous mix that can only be understood by way of a non-linear pathway through thinking and comprehension. The term Spirit is thus understood to be a kind of elevation of consciousness, not something distant or ephemeral. Chinese ink art is a reflection of the senses not the intellect. As a discipline Chinese ink art teaches the adept to feel, not to think; to ‘be’ and to ‘be in’ the moment, not to worry about the future or to dwell on the past. Chinese art therefore has strong links with first order consciousness, shamanism and the pre-historic beliefs and rituals.
By Western definition ancient Chinese works are an abstraction sourced from the deepest levels of the human unconscious, they are applauded as masterful, mysterious and mythological as well as heralding a particular style unique to the Chinese culture. To the Chinese artist the works are merely depictions of ‘isness’; bodies merged with spirits that are everlasting and thus eternal in happiness and satisfaction. In turn, what this art offers the subject is stability.
In this work the drawings of Geraldine Wogan-Browne are deemed an acknowledgement of spirit and a profound contribution to art history and multiculturalism. The examples of Geraldine’s work given here are a testimony to the value of art as a vehicle for peace, harmony and well-being, a connection which no modern scientist has yet been able to unravel or fully explain and I hope this analysis will add to the inquiry.
No discipline, scientific or philosophical, can fully represent the complex qualitative phenomena of the sensory experience. The intrinsic knowledge of colours and their vibrations is different to the mere observation of their existence, which is always contingent on the natural laws of refracted light and the incapacity of receptors in the human brain to accurately interpret the data. In some people there are special insights such as in the neurological condition of Synaesthesia where the senses get mixed and alter visual perceptions. Research shows that many artists are prone to mild Synaesthesia.
Some artists have attempted to express their emotions and ideas through the sensory mode in the belief that there is a higher force governing this field. The view holds that the unknowable (un)conscious that is rooted deep in the human psyche is enjoined with the unknowable aspects of the universe. The view is idealist, but it reveals the extent of the human imagination and it adds to the richness of the literatures. Each and every creation is unique and deserving of validity, each adds to the corpus of knowledge and further inquiry.
Many artists have produced technologically skilled renditions of their inner consciousness in what has become known as visionary art. Chinese ink art follows no such pretentions. The Chinese ink artist injects a particular quality of minimalism into a work that sets it apart from the European techniques of vision, analysis or prediction. The Chinese ink artist focuses on landscape, mysticism, levity, texture, mood; and what some have called ‘Qualia’ (sometimes read as the intangible ‘quality’ of life itself).
There has been a long history of phenomenology surrounding Chinese minimalism much of which has departed from its purely aesthetic roots to engage in psychology, physics and the more recent quantum theories; but most intellectual critiques of this nature appear to neglect the interiority of the human senses. As Heraclitus (535c- 475 BCE) stated, if all things turned to smoke, they would be distinguishable by their scent.
The ephemeral and impermanent qualities of art are frequently made distinguishable through recognizable forms. Ideas and tributes can become replaced with the more comprehensive objects such as memorials where the memory of what was, or the imagery of what might have been, can be translated into a corporal text. Here lies the essence of all art and the ‘is–ought’ problem that has plagued philosophers from time immemorial. All art is a memorial shrouded in an ‘is-ought’ dilemma since all memorials are a repository of the combined human experience both as action and perception.
Memorials come in many forms and they are an integral part of the cultural process that help and encourage the preservation of individual memories. Memorials are also inextricably linked to an evolutionary pre-history where the primitive human must develop an intellect to overcome the size, strength and speed of predatory animals. When the human conquers the danger of being consumed by the threatening beast s/he makes a drawing on a cave wall to remind successive human beings of the need for survival. Before this takes place there must be a sensory awareness of the threatening experience. Today, science has a mature understanding of human anxieties; but for the ancient cave dwellers fear was portrayed in a hand extended outwards to imprint its shape onto damp earth. The touch of the cave wall calmed the human emotions and solidified the primal instincts in much the same way as walking barefoot on grass brings the body closer to the earthly existence.
In ancient times it was the sensory experience that served to affirm life and bring about confidence in an otherwise unfathomable world. The scenario gets played out today in a different version where ritual celebrations are designed to honour high achievers and heroes. To this end the practice of honouring has become instrumental and highly subjective, but the original purpose of overcoming fears remains. In this sense, memorials not only symbolize individual excellence, they also serve to provide identity, security and roots and they are especially important for advancing well-being within communities whose entire existence is based on a material and subjective experience.
Memorials are art-forms that function to communicate a given story by connecting readers and spectators to events of the past and by providing hope for the future. Research shows that celebratory artefacts of this nature contribute to gratitude and in turn aid better mental health and well-being. The correlations between gratitude and human well-being are scientifically proven. Memorials and all forms of creativity help to shape compassion and understanding by channelling the emotions towards positive psychological benefits. All art is liberation as it helps to reduce anxiety, encourage productivity and assist in the development of strong individuals and cohesive groups. Science has conclusively shown that creativity reaches into the body’s quiescent responses and promotes higher levels of physical and mental health as well as a general communal stability. Art takes the human psyche back to the experience of the primordial cave wall. The journey back into the cave is the same journey the Chinese ink artist takes in self-improvement by way of deep contemplation through his or her work practices.
The texts of remembrance are all different and it requires more than a single person to produce any kind of memorial. There are many influences, contributors, editors, teachers and helpers whose input is essential for the sentiments, analysis and quality of any discourse to be properly conveyed. I have come to believe that Geraldine Wogan-Browne would have wanted the focus of this analysis to be on the beauty of nature and the way it lends itself to a particular kind of spiritual fulfilment and this is what I have attempted to achieve.
A life-journey is unique for every person. For Geraldine drawing was a way of embracing her humanist faith beginning at a very insular level. Drawing gave Geraldine clarity of purpose that included compassion and love for all living things whereby faith was gradually exteriorized without the need for grandstanding. I have attempted to reveal these qualities in this narrative while simultaneously offering a deeper explanation of what it might mean to be a traditional Chinese ink artist in a modern and very materially oriented world.
When I first began this work I talked to people who asked why did Geraldine have to produce Chinese drawings, why not Australian? Some people viewed the choice of following a Chinese culture as alien or un-Australian. Also, why was Geraldine so secretive? Why did she not share her talents? I hope this work will answer these questions. Geraldine made no distinction between cultures, none was above the other. She firmly believed in and lived the spirit of multiculturalism. Geraldine existed on a divided planet and she thought art could bring it back together again, but this could not take place through fame or the ego.
Originally created in the Han dynasty (202BCE–220AD) and associated with ancient astrology, animals in the Chinese zodiac were created for counting years. Each animal sign is usually related to an earthly branch, so the animal years were called Zi Rat, Chou Ox, Yin Tiger, Mao Rabbit, Chen Dragon, Si Snake, Wu Horse, Wei Sheep, Shen Monkey, You Rooster, Xu Dog and Hai Pig (Chinese Zodiac: 12 Animal Signs…www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/social_customs/zodiac/ Retrieved 12th August, 2015).
The Chinese Ages.
The Palaeolithic Age dates back from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, during which the matriarchal clan society was formed, a social system in which the mother was head of the family and descent was traced through the mother’s side of the family. The mankind of the Palaeolithic Age is represented by ‘Hetao Man’ who lived about 500,000 to 350,000 years ago, the fossils of which were dug up in North China’s Inner Mongolia, ‘Liujiang Man’, whose fossils were discovered in Liuzhou, two hours away from Guilin, in South China’s Guangxi Province, ‘Zhiyu Man’, and cavemen who lived about 300,000 years ago in caves.
The Neolithic Age dates back from 18,000 to 4,000 years ago, during which the patriarchal clan society, a social system in which males were the primary authority figures and were central to social organization, was formed. The level of productive force in the Neolithic Age was much more advanced than the previous times, which was reflected in the development of agricultural production, the expansion of stock farming, the emergence of ceramics and silk products, and the formation of social divisions of labour.
The Peiligang culture existed from 7000 to 5000 BCE along the middle stretch of the Yellow River in today’s Henan Province, in central China, and it is the oldest Neolithic culture.
The Cishan culture was a name given to a Neolithic community found in Cishan in North China’s Hebei Province. The Cishan culture existed from 5400 to 5100 BCE.
The Yangshao culture refers to a Neolithic community found along the middle stretch of the Yellow River from Gansu Province to Hainan Province, which existed from 5000 to 3000 BCE. Important Remains of the Yangshuo Culture were found at the Banpo Site in Xi’an.
The Longshan culture existed from 5000 to 4000 BCE and featured advanced technology in the art of making delicate black pottery.
The Bronze Age dates back from the 21st century BCE to the 5th century BCE, from which Chinese civilization starts, and it ranged from the Xia Dynasty (2070 BCE-1600 BCE) to the Shang Dynasty (1600 BCE-1046 BCE) and to the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BCE-221 BCE). The Bronze Age was a period when the Three Wise Kings and Five August Emperors lived (Suiren, Shennong, Fuxi, Huangdi, Zhuanyu, Yao the Great, Shun and Yu). Qi, Tang and Jifa were the founders of the Xia (2070 BCE-1600 BCE), the Shang (1600 BCE-1046 BCE) and the Zhou (1046 BCE-221 BCE) dynasties respectively. The Bronze culture reached its peak time in the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BCE-221 BCE) and a large number of bronze wares have been unearthed by archaeologists upon which inscriptions were carved. (Prehistoric Times of China – Palaeolithic Age, Neolithic Age …www.chinahighlights.com › … › Chinese Culture › China History.) Retrieved 12th September, 2015).
Chinese history has been dominated by powerful family groups called dynasties.
Neolithic 8500-c 2070 BCE
Xia dynasty 270 –c 1600 BCE
Shang dynasty c. 1600 – c. 1046 BCE
Zhou dynasty c. 1046 – 256 BCE
Spring and Autumn
Three Kingdoms 220–280
Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin dynasty 265–420
Eastern Jin Sixteen kingdoms.
Southern and Northern Dynasties
Sui dynasty 581–618
Tang dynasty 618–907
(Wu Zhou interregnum 690–705)
Five Dynasties and Liao 709- 1125
Northern Song W. Xia
Southern Song Jin
Yuan dynasty 1271–1368
Ming dynasty 1368–1644
Qing dynasty 1644–1911
Modern: Republic of China.
The pig is associated with water and the emotions in Chinese mythology. The pig offers love and compassion.
Oh my humble, lowly voice. Oh my modest timid accent. You soar upward in flight. You fling your way to the height, while I remain behind you. Proceed on, my voice up there, to the realm of the immortal, while my presence here abides. Go on: Oh accent of mine to the Kingdom of the Eternal. (Manobo/Bukidnon Agyu. Epics of the Philippines).
HUMANS LIVE OUT THEIR LIVES BY SHARING STORIES. Stories are not just matters of history they describe what it is to be human. Traditional Chinese stories are the expressions of appreciation manifest in the various scholarly arts. In turn, the arts and literatures portray the anomalies of life through fictional and mythological characters, landscapes and the social ecologies, all of which are aimed at easing the burden of painful worldly realities. To this end, while Chinese ink art appears to be a process of combining a visibly simple arrangement of objects on paper it is in fact a highly sequential, unique and complex discipline. Chinese ink art has only recently become popular in the West and it still remains exclusive to a small body of collectors in the United States with an even smaller market in Europe and Australia. In Asia the mood is different; Chinese ink art, both ancient and modern, is highly sought after, not only in mainland China, but also in Taiwan, Singapore and the surrounding region. In Asia ink art has endured with little change in method or meaning for centuries. However, despite its longevity, rarely has anyone made an attempt to trace its origins or to explore the possible links to other creative genres and disciplines. Indeed, little has been revealed about Chinese ink art especially in relation to how it has matured over time or what motivated the artists. There have been very few studies on the connections between art and species survival outside of palaeontology and the issues surrounding art’s purpose have not been thoroughly explored. What was the purpose of Chinese art? How did Chinese art relate to the spirit and mind of pre-historic communities? And, the most important question of all, what kind of cultural initiatives did Chinese ink art give rise to?
These and other matters fascinated the Australian born artist Geraldine Wogan-Browne who embarked on a pathway towards discovering the secrets of ancient Chinese arts through her own depictions of nature. Geraldine created ink drawings in the spirit of the Taoist tradition and she became very skilled at the task. In traditional Taoist art meaning is found through contemplation and the act of personal character building, which includes the practice of kindness and compassion towards all living things. Taoism is not a religion as such and many of the Taoist values are shared by Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Naturalists and Pagans. While Geraldine lived through immense social upheaval, instead of following the mainstream hostilities she embarked on a Taoist journey of deep understanding for her Asian environment and its people.
Geraldine lived in South East Asia in the 1960s which is where she discovered her talents as a brush and ink artist. She followed the philosophies of the Ming dynasty’s traditional Shen Zhou School which marks her work as minimalist and mystical. The Shen Zhou tradition is of particular significance because it is believed to have its roots in the pictographic motifs of the ancient Paleolithic tribes and in particular the matriarchal Wu Shamans. Judging from a collection of Geraldine’s books her aim was not just to produce fine art from these pre-historic origins, but to grasp the more subliminal meanings of the Chinese language and Han culture by reflecting on its images and mythologies. To this end, the artist had favourite topics; she loved the landscape and the trees and flowers that reminded her of Australia.
The Han Chinese.
The Han Chinese is just one of fifty-six groups that are still recognized by the current Chinese administration. The Han mythologies document the founding of the Chinese state and the development of its cultures. Many of the foundational myths relate to rulers and Immortals who presided over specific historic periods while others are handbooks on morality, medicine and ethics or what was said to constitute a good Chinese character.
The Ancient Chinese had their own Pantheon which was not unlike the Ancient Greek Pantheon of Uranus, Hades and Gaea (Heaven, Hell and Earth). According to Chinese mythology the Jade Emperor governed over the three realms: Heaven, Hell and the realm of the living (Earth). In the Chinese version there is no separation in the identity of humans, plants, creatures and Earth. The Jade Emperor was the Judge who kept order and accordingly proclaimed the rewards and punishments to be metered out to China’s citizens, slaves and eunuchs. The Emperor had the power to elevate noble citizens into sainthood or to eliminate them should they become too ambitious and troublesome. The sagas of Chinese history are recorded in scrolls, books and other objects with themes that still feature today in the modern production of Chinese painting, literature, philosophies and traditional handicrafts.
History reveals an extensive interaction between Chinese mythology and the philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, the oldest of which is Taoism. Pre-history in China is referred to as the pre-Han dynasty and many of the elements of this period flowed into the Han mythologies and were then formulated into systems of rules and rituals; the most popular was Taoism; but some rituals were also included in the annuls of Buddhism, most of which have been sustained to this day. The Taoist belief of a spiritual Paradise (replicated across most belief systems) became incorporated into Chinese mythology as the place of the Immortals; a Heavenly place the deities called home. These settings and the stories that accompany them are still culturally important and the Chinese hold very strong sentiments towards the Immortals that sit beyond any spiritual or religious beliefs. Traditional Chinese art reflects the utopian view of the spirits and their dwelling places and notably, these beliefs are also held to be active in a genetic memory. All traditional Chinese arts therefore are said to contain a greater invisible force; namely an ‘essence’; or to put it differently, a spiritual presence before creation (Qi). As a philosophy this arrangement is expressed as holism. The Western version of this system is called naturalism and it is still very strong amongst the West’s anthroposophist movement (Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf Schools). The work of Geraldine Wogan-Browne is both naturalist and essentialist (it holds nature as the penultimate force and nature’s essence as the super-force), but beyond these terms Geraldine was her own person and her work is not a platform for any religion or politics, instead it is a remarkable tale of one woman’s own sensitive journey towards happiness.
Art and Culture.
Art reveals a lot about the human character and it serves as an aid for understanding cultural behaviour, but at its core level art also raises important questions about motivation and human well-being. In this respect Chinese art is closely linked to Chinese medicine, Divination and Feng Shui. Each of these Chinese disciplines aims for balance and harmony and their practices are specifically non-violent. This is not to say the Chinese were never violent, indeed Warring was also considered an art form by the Chinese nobility. However, for the mainstream Chinese success in life was believed to be a process of securing bodily balance through the mastering of the body’s more ephemeral ‘Qi’ energy or life force, whereby survival was said to transcend all material acts.
In the West art has been a barometer for history and progress. More recently there has also been a trend in linking the arts to mental and physical healing, which harks back to traditional tribal practices of natural remedies, namely herbs, ceremonies and rituals. Art therapies are said to help in managing stress by giving focus to the positives and by liberating the human emotions and anxieties. To this end, art is believed to help alleviate depression and melancholy thus lessoning mood swings. This raises important epistemological issues for the future of art as a cultural aesthetic by way of altering its status from a thing of beauty to a science and a possible aid for better health and well-being. Importantly, the notion of aestheticism in Chinese art was never applied in the same way as it was in the West, nor does the notion of art-for-art’s-sake have a place in Chinese philosophies, these are Western inventions. In Chinese spiritual culture art is always a vehicle for individual improvement.
Western science has recently acknowledged the inextricable links between art and the human mind and this bodes closely with the Chinese paradigm which views the mind as an eternal spirit. The consistency in the Chinese traditions has therefore been inimitable and today there is still a strong Han influence in Chinese art.
Researching the Unknowable.
All research is about the material and cultural influences that shape the lives of people and their ideas about the world and much of the discussion falls within the rubric of a nature-culture debate. Art provides a different way of seeing nature and culture and what has been called the Social Construction of Reality. Exposure to art moves the mind away from the subjective experience into another realm of the unconscious, that which prompted the renowned scholar Raymond Williams to argue that art needs to be understood in order to comprehend the inter-relationships between nature, culture and society. Science now tells us that the unconscious informs almost all conscious thoughts and actions making art an iconoscope of all the internal structures.
Art is something created and consumed, to this end all beliefs, disciplines, texts and contexts are considered cultural; but while this widens the social reach of art production it also differentiates and causes fragmentation. This is especially true when art is placed at the interface of the rational-scientific-discourse and in opposition to the mythologies and/or mysticism. In addition, Western art has become inextricably bound up with commodity markets, which includes a separate market in the academic art discourses. Western art has been subjected to a critical cultural theory that aims to define the heuristic concept of culture in an anthropological or semiotic way, but these theories generally fail to account for the elevated experience that inaugurates the creation of great art or that which the psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to as the peak experience. Chinese art requires a different approach because it acknowledges the emotional and sense based criterion that gives rise to great spiritual art and peak experience.
In the early 1970s Western media influences and culture became the focus of a contemporary debate on the methods and meaning inherent in the production of arts and culture. This was a move away from the nature based positivist epistemology that dictated that everything meaningful must have its replicate in nature. Scientific prophecy asserted that humans would recreate nature; simultaneously individuals were already creating their own realities as they rebelled and revolutionized societies and their arts. Art then became a vehicle for social transformation. Text was merged with context revealing the instability of previous linear theories. Quantum physics provided the impetus for further change showing how just a small addition into a system could generate an extraordinary and unanticipated difference. However, it was Quantum knowledge that reignited the old and more traditional motion formula which had been applied to classical art.
Motion formula harks back to antiquity, but it is best explained by Karl Marx’s theory of surplus-value and his contribution to the debate on evolution. For Marx the notion of a motion formula was called dialectical materialism and it promulgated the idea that nature is the proof of all theory. Marx (1818-1883) was a positivist and evolutionist and most Western social, political, historical and artistic appendages once depended upon this view. Even today positivists carry a lot of influence in conservative circles, especially in the long established religious domains. Yet, while the West marked this positivist view as a political and religious discourse, the Chinese held a similar view that was not directly political nor was it religious; rather it was metaphysical and non-confrontational. What the Chinese shared with Marxism was the idea that humans were an integral part of nature whereby the separation of labour from nature would result in feelings of anxiety and alienation (an imbalance of Qi energy). Marx also believed that nature could liberate humans from bondage, but this required modern technologies. To the Chinese liberation was a priori and residing in the natural landscape. Contact with nature equated with liberation. The Chinese intellectual (literati) was liberated by way of being totally absorbed into the natural world via an artistic pre-disposition. Indeed, when China became a communist state it banned religion, but it did not ban the traditional arts that offered a panacea for hard times and any possible resentment against the new regime.
Like many of the humanities Marxism’s cultural and economic theories had their roots in metaphysics (sometimes called the meta-narratives or foundational theories). However, classical Marxist theories were rejected after the Second World War for their links to socialism and war crimes. It was not until the end of the 1960s and in light of a post-colonial shift towards global power that Marx’s theories gathered ground again. The new Marxism took on a slightly different perspective which earned it the title of cultural socialism or post-colonial deconstruction.
The term deconstruction began to appear in the European literature as a tool for dissecting the imperialist methods of colonization and mass oppression. Deconstruction in ancient Chinese art is linked to transcendence and space. The Western post-structural discourse offered a clear description of the subject and object relations (otherwise the master-slave discourse). However, deconstruction stopped short of penetrating the Chinese idiom because metaphysics in the Taoist tradition were already depoliticized and above the problem. To the Taoist, deconstruction meant rising beyond the structures rather than attempting to dismantle them. Taoism acknowledged that the power of oppression is held together by the duality in relations, not by any one individual action. Deconstruction philosophers in the West have been greatly influenced by Taoist thought and in the 1960s and 1970s began theorizing the power of the ‘transcendent’, not just in spirit, but as a discursive political tool for dismantling colonial oppression.
The term deconstruction first appeared in the work Being and Time (1967) by Martin Heidegger and was later developed into a philosophical treatise by Jacques Derrida in a work titled Writing and Difference (1968). Derrida turned his attention to language and in the spirit of the structural linguist and semiologist Ferdinand Saussure noted that meaning could only be arrived at by the different relations between signifiers (metaphors, allegories, myths and/or stories). In other words, meaning is not a fixture it travels along a chain of signifiers eventually abolishing the original stable signified. Derrida’s theory explained why oppressed people do not always acknowledge or feel oppressed.
Deconstruction also gave visibility to Chinese myths as a legitimate means of perceiving the world regardless of their consistent transmutations. What Derrida offers in deconstruction resonates strongly with the Chinese philosophy of Taoism and in particular with the uniqueness of the Chinese language which is written in pictographs that can have multiple and free floating meanings. When Derrida revealed the limits of Western linear thinking and its ambiguities he opened the way for a better understanding of the Chinese arts and language.
Chinese traditionalists did not set out to change the world with their transcendental disciplines, but these ideas did find appeal amidst a disenchanted Western youth in the 1960s and the popularity of Taoism in the West went part way to creating the short lived Cultural Revolution that relied heavily on all the Eastern beliefs. Many deconstructionists who followed Derrida’s lead began talking about a pre-existing ‘symbolic space’ and a new postmodern fluidity that gave rise to the notion that all ideas were contestable. Deconstruction posed no boundaries that could not be eclipsed by possibilities. The Chinese avoided such a revolution in thought because in Taoism there is always already a symbolic space, it is just sacred rather than antagonistic. Moreover, where there is symbolic space there are also symbolic relations which gives credence to the characterizations manifest in the Chinese mythologies and the arts.
Derrida’s findings were not entirely new. The Chinese mysteries were very popular with European Victorian societies. Many upper and middle class Victorians displayed an avid interest in the Chinese arts and literatures and a lot of Chinese designs were copied onto fabrics and porcelain. The Chinese taste fell out of vogue at the height of modern expressionism largely due to the geopolitics of the time. In the 1980s Chinese art had a brief renaissance in the West, but by 1985 a flourishing contemporary art movement usurped the more traditional works of Chinese artists. Interest was not ignited again until after the turn of the millennium, when the West increased its trading options with the South East’s Asian nations.
Modern Ink Art.
In the 1970s experiments in the realm of ink art were taking place in Asia and several exhibitions were held during this period, including the Stars Group Exhibition in Beijing (1979), the Grass Society Painting Exhibition in Shanghai (1980) and Shen Chen’s solo exhibition in Beijing (1984). Despite a lack of attention and no media coverage many artists managed to create works independently experimenting and producing outstanding contemporary and multicultural interpretations of Chinese culture. Since then Chinese art has become part of the sales pitch advocating for China’s industry in tourism and many of the original sentiments have gone. As one art critic puts it
Qiu Deshu’s innovative use of fissure and seal, Yu Youhan’s and Shen Chen’s abstract ink painting, Zhang Jian-Jun’s ink installation, Pu Guochang’s and Li Jin’s wild expression with ink and Zhang Jin’s long scroll with colour ink were all great examples of attempts to subvert the tradition and carve out a new path for the expression of contemporary cultural spirit… With the publication of Chinese Fine Arts Newspaper in 1985, its far-reaching influence greatly promoted the development of new art across the country. With artists like Gu Wenda, Shen Qin, Zheng Chongbin, Yuan Shun, Wang Chuan, Guang Yao, Yang Jiechang, Ren Jian, Chen Xinmao, Zhang Yu and Liu Zijian coming to the fore, new ink art was finally recognized an indispensable and prominent part of New Wave Art.
The contemporary works are very different from the traditional schools, but they serve to heighten attention with respect to the overall genre of Chinese art and this in turn creates curiosity as to the ancient origins of Chinese philosophy. Indeed, there is more opportunity for understanding the traditional techniques with the acceptance of its modern counterpart than there was before it.
An Extraordinary Life.
The sacred geese graced the orchard of the goddess Xī Wáng Mŭ in the West of the Kunlun Mountains. They were fed the peaches of immortality, making them undying creatures.
The best people are like water, which benefits all things and does not compete with them. It stays in lowly places that others reject.
GREAT ART OFTEN EMERGES FROM THE UNEXPECTED. Geraldine Wogan-Browne was born in Melbourne in 1926 and she worked as a Red Cross volunteer when she met her husband Lieutenant (later Commander) Donald Wogan-Browne of the Royal Australian Navy, the couple were married after the Second World War in 1949. Donald was still a struggling young officer with little inkling as to where his career might take him. His Record from the Petty Officer’s School at Cerberus shows him to have been a hard-working seaman, but no more than an average officer and he was constantly overlooked for promotion. Donald’s daughter Jocelyn noted that her father’s services during WWII had effectively cut his life short as he was showered by asbestos from the guns under which he slept as a midshipman fighting in Darwin and the Pacific. Donald’s decision to stay on in the Navy after the end of War II was a brave one. His service over the years was demanding, but he rose in the ranks and served at H.M.A.S Harman the Royal Australian Navy’s Radio Communications and Strategic Intelligence facility. There he was responsible for coast-watching and visiting other coast-watching officers around Australia and the island territories. He became the Commander of the H.M.A.S Anzac training ship and in 1963 he was appointed Australia’s Navel attaché to the Philippines. Donald and Geraldine were viewed as a glamorous couple, but they also experienced the turbulent times that besieged the entire South East Asia Pacific during the 1960s. Donald was responsible for the transportation of military personnel into and out of Vietnam as well as overseeing the safe passage of military vessels into harbours. As the wife of Australia’s high ranking public official Geraldine supported her husband though one of the most difficult periods in Australia’s military history and it was while living in Manila that Geraldine began creating her traditional Chinese art combining it with her memories of the Australian landscape. Geraldine was largely self-taught copying much of her early work from Chinese books and pamphlets. Later she attended classes with a Master and met with local Filipino artists. In time Geraldine’s work was considered to be so good that some of it was purchased by the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. However, Geraldine never became known for her art. She was a closet artist and remained so when she passed away in 2012. Geraldine is buried, next to her husband at the Foster Cemetery in South Gippsland. Her Obituary appeared in the Foster Mirror on April 8th 2015 (Figs.1-2-3).
Figure 3: Obituary: ©Foster Mail 8th April, 2012.
Art tells the story not just of the artist, but also of the context in which the art is created. Geraldine’s work might never have been revealed without the bizarre discovery of a package in a small town opportunity shop. It happened on an ordinary day in the isolated location of Welshpool in the southern region of Gippsland, Victoria, a place so insignificant it has less than one hundred residents and is rarely printed on the road maps (Figs. 4-5).
Figure 4: Welshpool: © Cassie-Rose James Figure 5: Gippsland Landscape. 2012. ©Wiki Commons.
Hamlets like Welshpool are not usually at the centre of great discoveries. However, on this particular day a volunteer named Dawn Woloschin was in the shed of the second hand shop routinely sorting through boxes that had been left over from a clearing sale at the Wogan-Browne estate. While chatting away to co-workers Dawn came upon a small hessian shopping bag containing a few old books, brushes and some disheveled papers. She almost discarded the items to the rubbish, but instinct intervened. The collection captured Dawn’s curiosity and prompted her to purchase the collection for the sum of $10.00. What she had purchased was thirty traditional brush and ink drawings on rice paper and Geraldine’s study materials. The collection was later taken to a gallery for evaluation. I was the owner of the gallery and I evaluated the anonymous Chinese ink drawings and the small number of items that accompanied them.
The first items examined were a collection of Chinese brushes. The artist’s brushes were of a very high calibre commonly used by professional Chinese calligraphers and landscape artists. They were made of thin hair and set beautifully into bamboo handles which were clearly labelled with gold Chinese calligraphy and stamped with a label marking their place of origin, which was Hong Kong. One brush displayed the insignia of two rabbits and another had a sticker with a goose. The goose, which is a migratory bird, appears frequently in Chinese poetry and signifies messages of love from afar.
Figure 6-7: Chinese brushes. © C. James. 2013.
The rabbit is part of the Chinese Zodiac and represents immortality; it has close associations with the Moon, probably because it is an animal that leaps. Animals in mythology are often seen jumping over the Moon. Animal symbols are popular in Chinese culture and adherents of these traditions often purchase products in accordance with their Zodiac sign and its symbolism. The idea of having life mapped out in pictographs is integral to Chinese philosophy, but this is not unique to China; similar practices were applied elsewhere in antiquity. The Pythagoreans of the 5th century BCE used geometric systems that included scales of colour and vibration to map out their destiny (Fig 8).
Figure 8: Pythagorean symbols. ©Wiki Commons.
Geraldine loved the South East Asian cultures and she continued her interest after her return to Australia in 1970 when she moved to Foster in South Gippsland with her husband to begin farming. Geraldine kept her art a secret and not even her closest friends knew anything of her gifted life. When she passed away in 2012 her daughter Jocelyn commissioned a park bench in her mother’s memory as a tireless volunteer worker and philanthropist. There was an official opening for the memorial, but seemingly there was no mention of Geraldine’s art. The bench was made by a local Gippsland artist Andrew McPherson and it sits along a Rail Trail in the spot where Geraldine enjoyed walking and surveying the hills. Geraldine was a Friend of the Great Southern Rail Trail and she started a local walking group in conjunction with the University of the Third Age (U3A); the bench is a fitting memorial (Fig.9).
In addition to the construction of the bench at Station Park Jocelyn Wogan-Browne adopted an annual reading prize first offered by her mother at the Foster Primary School. The prize has been aimed at continuing the provision of equality of opportunity in education and it is still an annual event.
Geraldine was a woman with great vision. Among her many community achievements she started the first Host Farm in Gippsland and the association known by the same name. She was also a member of the Historical Society and had a particular interest in pioneering women. She delivered Meals on Wheels to the elderly and revelled in their conversation and wisdom. Geraldine craved knowledge and pursued every possible avenue of learning available. She was a quiet, but dedicated feminist who believed women were strong and with the appropriate education they could initiate significant changes in the world. She did not have the benefit of a tertiary education, but she longed for a better, more compassionate humanity which she believed could be achieved through appropriate knowledge. A lack of formal education did not hold Geraldine back, she was an avid reader and researcher and few topics escaped her curiosity. Geraldine was a self-taught ecologist who loved to be at one with nature, a trait that is reflected in her art. She was a source of encouragement for many people during her lifetime, especially the young. She continues to inspire despite her passing and to be able to spread such inspiration from the grave is truly the mark of an extraordinary women.
Geraldine is warmly remembered by her friends and associates in the Foster community. She stood for a love of history, people, cultures, education, animals, gardens, farming, sustainability, the environment, arts and most of all the ability to tap into an inner peace which she believed could be shared for the mutual benefit of all, a blessing that came from her unusual and often challenging life world experiences.
The rabbit is the Chinese symbol of immortality.
That which shrinks, must first expand.
That which fails, must first be strong.
That which is cast down, must first be raised.
Before receiving, there must be giving.
ACCORDING TO CHINESE MYTHOLOGY THE STIRRING OF THE COSMIC WATERS CREATED THE BEGINNING OF ALL LIFE. In the first mythological stories of life there are no mortal beings only abstractions called spirits. Later on in time these spirits are said to occupy the bodies of transmigratory forms, gods and goddesses; sometimes depicted as half-man and half-beast. It could be suggested that the mythological depictions of hybrid creatures are the monograph of human evolution. Scientists have discovered a plethora of information on human evolution and the story of living hybrids has been told in a myriad of ways, but most vividly through art and often by transcribing and interpreting unconscious abstractions. One of the most convincing forms of evidence pertaining to hybrids comes in the abundance of human fossils that reveal the evolutionary changes occurring over the millenniums. These include changes to brain size, differences in bodily appearance as well as an expansion in human creativity (culture). Science now has a fairly accurate record of human evolution over the past 6 million years and there is still much more to learn.
In recent times the study of human genes has revealed just how complex the human form is. Genes also indicate how closely related humans are to other animals, in particular to other primates; in fact, how connected humans are with all the different organisms in existence. In addition, fossils have provided indications of the way humans have migrated across the world and developed their cultures. Pre-historic art on the walls of caves and on bone fragments have revealed the earliest developments in human achievement. These are the milestones that form the basis of creation and in particular the crucial art of storytelling. The languages and transcripts of today stem from the many multi-layered ideas, mythologies and symbols of early humans and the Chinese arts are amongst the most vivid examples.
The many and varied Chinese forms provide an intriguing and colourful legacy of metaphors and pictographs, but they are not easy to define because they sit beyond the use of everyday communications. Nonetheless, through the analysis of ancient symbols palaeontologists and others have calculated the way humans have grown and expressed their lives and how they have migrated across seas to explore new territories building settlements and creating depictions of their transmutations; that is bodies viewed for their essence not their subjectivity.
Fossils and carbon dating have given a fairly accurate record of human evolution and while much of it is drawn from Central Africa where Sahelanthropus tchadensis is said to have originated, other significant discoveries have been found in China. Many of the Chinese stories tell of a tortuous human journey to self-consciousness, a state of awareness that most people take for granted, but which science is only just beginning to comprehend. In Chinese terms the apocalyptic chasms that morphed one species into another to create Homo Sapiens founded the experiences which are today imprinted within the depths of the human psyche and which have also become deeply embedded in the arts.
Humans of all creeds have attempted to understand the evolutionary changes from a variety of aspects; they have built temples, catacombs, crypts, altars, labyrinths, cathedrals and mausoleums in order to remember the milestones in human achievements and failures. Humans have explored caves and sacred places and they have created abstract archetypes to aid in the processes of remembering the past in order to search for meaning and predict the future.
The desire to remember and tell stories could not have existed without knowledge of a greater cosmology and the ancient shamans who were attributed the task of making the connections between the two worlds, Heaven and Earth. The shamans journeyed into the spirit world and returned to share their visions through the arts of ritual, rhyme, dance and mythical tales. It is from these earliest connections that all art, culture and histories have emerged. Some of these stories are believed to have come from divine inspiration, gods and goddesses or the souls of the deceased. More recently the spirit journey has been described as the connection between the conscious and the unconscious.
Freud and Psychoanalysis.
The originator of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) explored the unconscious and determined that human artworks were like dreams that surface from the deeply held primal anxieties stored in the unconscious mind. He believed these anxieties were levels of memory left over from a turbulent and archaic past which manifest to influence present lives.
Freud was trained as a neurologist and maintained all behaviour was rooted in the brain and its primal reproductive urges that hark back to a primal age. Freud believed the archaic traits were reinvented in present time and instrumental in all forms of human activity. Analysis in Freud’s time was very mechanistic in its outlook so he drew on the Newtonian physics for his model of understanding behaviours using metaphors such as hydraulic pressure to describe how the mental forces were brought into a dynamic equilibrium for daily life. Freud’s works have been highly criticized in recent times, nonetheless the arts in Freud’s estimation offered an exclusive view of the unconscious far greater than the reality from which all other conscious thoughts and actions eventually emerge and this deduction has stood the test of time. Hence, Freud did not subscribe to the general view of the rational human. Rather, he thought that being ‘rational’ was a façade, hard to learn and even more tedious to maintain. In this respect the ideas of Sigmund Freud and those of the Chinese artist have much in common.
While Chinese art appears highly regulated and rational it is governed by sentiments that suggest materialism is incomplete, cosmologically interchangeable and universal. Hence, any formulated rational approach to Chinese art will not achieve a valid interpretation. Critique should be as creative as the object of its evaluation. In fact, historically, Chinese critique was given to the Literati who in their own right were regarded as great artists of the imagination.
Freud was fascinated by the ancient arts and his constant references to physical constructs such as energy, force and drive reflected his interests in cosmology and the ancient traditions; he was especially fond of Egyptology and hieroglyphics, indeed in all forms of ancient symbolism, which to his mind came from the deepest levels of human emotion. Freud maintained that in order to procure civilization such emotions had to be suppressed, but this in turn created anxieties both for the individual and society.
The Collective Unconscious.
Whereas Freud saw the unconscious as a product of human development and repression his counterpart Carl Jung hypothesized a deeper level of intra-psychic existence. Jung postulated a theory of archetypes which he named the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious represented a universal set of stored images that included the ‘anima’ and ‘animus’. Jung used these descriptors to identify what he believed to be two primary anthropomorphic archetypes controlling the unconscious mind, whereby the masculine archetype [the animus] finds expression in the female personality and the female archetype [the anima] finds its presence in the depths of the male personality. The idea stems from the philosophical teachings of Chinese Taoism, which views the male and female life force (Qi) as part of a universal (w)hole. Jung added a shadow archetype which represents everything humans might wish to forget and/or that which they project onto others. The shadow archetype appears in Chinese myths, sometimes as a hybrid human or animal. Jung believed that through the mythologies and oral histories humanity could find a creative way to explore the inner most emotions without causing harm in the external world.
Long before Jung or Freud developed their theories the Chinese had already established a symbolic archetypal narrative depicting the hidden unconscious, they formulated it into a yearly cycle and called it the Yin Calendar which aligned all the human attributes with a universal astrology. For example, a particular birth date occurring with the appearance of a given constellation in the sky would indicate a particular human destiny.
The earliest evidence of the Chinese calendar was found on oracle bones originating in the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600 BCE- ca .1046 BCE) (Fig 10).
The inscriptions on the Yin Calendar describe a luna-solar year of twelve months, with a possible intercalary thirteenth, or even fourteenth month, added empirically to account for the drift (a leap year).
The Chinese Calendar, the longest chronological record in history, dates from approximately 2600 BCE, when the Emperor Huang Ti (Yellow Emperor) introduced the first cycle of the zodiac. The beginning of the year occurred at a New Moon near the Winter Solstice. In the late second century BCE a calendar reform established the practice of requiring the Winter Solstice (entering Capricorn) to occur in month eleven, as is still practised today. The calendar gave rise to a nature based mythology using animal and plant symbolism as well as Feng Shui which incorporated the good and bad energy of the calendar equations into environments (Fig 11).
Being attuned to the elements of nature and the universe was called enlightenment or knowing the higher self. Thus, artists and philosophers of the ancient Chinese world aimed for the utopian experience of self-enlightenment.
The term ‘enlightenment’ differs in Eastern and Western philosophies. At the time of the eighteenth century European Enlightenment, the mythologies and other superstitions clashed with modern science so they were condemned. In the works of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) the only acceptable knowledge was that coming from experience accompanied by a rational scientific explanation. The process would lead to the eradication of knowledge by deduction and establish the science of empiricism, but there were problems when it came to eliminating any belief in a superior God who was not considered part of the mythology.
Enlightenment was also promulgated by René Descartes (1596-1650) who replaced knowledge previously based on the senses, intuition and the imagination with his own form of rationalism, thus overturning the medieval dream state of an invisible and divine essence which had served all of humanity for centuries, but he too could not eliminate God.
The Greek philosophers Plato (428/427 BCE) and his pupil Aristotle (384–322BCE) both firmly believed that beyond form there was essence. However, the proof of essence was incalculable so Descartes introduced the issue of ‘doubt’. Descartes’ dictum of ‘doubt’ resulted in a perceived separation between the body and mind which was maintained until the 20th century and is still upheld in most ecclesiastical systems. In this respect René Descartes is often credited with the break in causal philosophy (appearances) and the beginning of a modern scientific and constructive world view (facts that can be proven). Descartes also provided the world with a new concept of subjectivity, the ‘I’ or ‘I am’. Descartes toiled painfully over the issues of reason until he found that the only thing he could not doubt was his own existence. For Descartes the ‘I exist’ was impossible to doubt. Hence his famous dictum: ‘Cogito ergo sum’, (‘I think therefore I am’). However, having marked himself as an independent individual there was a twist. It is from this point on that Descartes proceeded to demonstrate the existence of a supernatural being (God), a belief that seems somewhat incongruous to the requirement of proof. However, beliefs are complex phenomena of the senses, indoctrination and the emotions which historically, have been difficult to shift. Nothing of the European debate had any relevance for the Chinese Taoists who could not make sense of separating the body from the mind, let alone from the cosmos.
The Western religious orthodoxy was forced to support the new science and it did so by asserting that science was valid because it was a gift from God; there was nonetheless a critical decline in religious art. Moreover, science was encumbered with its own form of metaphysics that included the existence of a world of bodies external to the human mind, which in turn boosted the credence of all the other dualities. Again, for the Chinese the dualities were never in question. With this in mind, Descartes and the Chinese did have one thing in common; each evaluation was based on the mechanistic model of physics and geometry which is systematically applied to the operation of all plant, animal and human bodies including the emotions and human behaviour. Indeed, the European Enlightenment did little more than reinvent the system of physics that could be traced back to Pythagoras.
In the West the religious and scientific hypotheses eventually blended into a system of morality based on the notion of ‘generosity’; God is good! In China everything remained guided by Taoism and this enabled the consistency in traditional Chinese art. In addition, Taoist teachings were flexible enough to allow Christians and other religious cohorts to take up the disciplines without conflict, which in turn aided the Taoist survival.
In the West great art has usually been determined by the powers of the church and state. In the East art stemmed from deep contemplation and character building, this is not to say the state did not have its influence; but it was not so rigid; the arts were perceived sacred and above all politics and social circumstance.
In ancient Mesopotamia and elsewhere in the ancient world contact with the deity was through heavenly observations; humans watched the movement of planets. Mesopotamians and the Chinese were renowned for their immense knowledge of astrology (Fig. 12).Figure 12: Chinese Calendar: ©Wiki Commons.
Throughout most of history astrology was considered to be a scholarly tradition.
Astrology was accepted in political and academic systems and it was connected with other studies, such as astronomy, alchemy, meteorology, and medicine. At the end of the 17th century, new scientific concepts in astronomy and physics (such as helio-centrism and Newtonian mechanics) challenged the astrological beliefs. In the West astrology lost its academic and theoretical standing and the common practice of astrology declined. Astrology remained popular with a mainstream esoteric following, but it was aggressively rejected by the scientific community who called it a pseudoscience.
According to Western science there is no proof of astrology’s assertions and therefore no validity for describing the universe from an astrological perspective. The Chinese on the other hand maintained an interest in astrology and it serves to underscore much of the culture to this day. Astrology is also important in Chinese art because it is said to mark various idiosyncrasies in the human character that can be enhanced or corrected by creativity. Further, the influence of astrological beliefs on pre-history cannot be overlooked.
Art and Cosmic Changes.
In the ancient world it is said that the planets were much closer to Earth than they are today. It is possible that the levels of plasma and electrical activity were much greater making the night time sky an awesome yet frightening spectacle. Electrical light storms were common; they were also ferocious and bewildering. Fig. 13.
Figure 13. ©Plasma Wiki Commons.
Plasma constitutes at least 99.9% of the matter in the visible universe. Humans unable to fathom what they saw likely used the only method they had to explain their experiences; they reproduced the images on cave walls. These cave drawings have helped cosmologists to identify changes in the Earth’s biosphere as well as enabling the deciphering of the earliest forms of art.
During the palaeolithic period the style of drawing showed human figures and animals with clearly recognizable features and it has been suggested by some analysts that early humans viewing monsters and figures they feared decided to honour them for their apparent superiority by calling them gods and goddesses.
In the following illustrations the ferocity of the skies appears to be clearly reflected in the pre-historic cave drawings which reveal shapes and lines that may well have led to the first forms of art and writing (Figs. 14-15).
Figure 15: Bhimbetka rock paintings of India, World Heritage Site. ©Wiki Commons.
The planets ruled all the kingdoms of the universe and they may have been perceived as the prophets of doom signifying the end of the world. After a cataclysmic event the night sky changed and the gods and goddesses became like stick figures with tridents made from plasma and lightening. Many of these same images remain as symbols in the practice of traditional Chinese calligraphy.
Babylon Night Sky.
The astrologer Berossus (280 BCE) is said to have written the History of Babylon after viewing an active night sky. Until recently knowledge of these events has been sketchy. Information was passed on like a game of whispers. Georgius Syncellus quotes from Eusebius [325 AD] who quotes from Alexander Polyhistory [50 BCE] who in turn was quoting Berossus who was believed to have written the script in 380 BCE on the tower of Babel.
In composing his history Berossus drew on the mythical traditions of Mesopotamia, and specifically on the texts of the creation myth otherwise known as Enuma Elish which provided the discourse for the Biblical Book of Genesis as well as the point of departure for the Western version of the history and progress across the colonized world.
Berossus gives one of the first accounts of creation in the form of the Deluge, otherwise called the Great Flood. The Epic of Atra-Hasis was first discovered in 1876 AD at Sippar, Iraq. Parts of the Epic of Atra-Hasis are quoted in Flood Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh (1150 BCE). The Epic of Atra-Hasis is a polytheistic explanation of human creation and the emergence from the waters of the womb which were compared to the disastrous earthly deluge. Like most myths the tale of the Flood has elements of fiction and myth mixed with experiential knowledge such as the chronicles kept by rulers who were said to still be living to recount the event. For example, Shem is believed to have lived 500 years after the Flood. Most ancient theorists maintain the likelihood that generations were collapsed into one identity along with their oral histories.
In Chinese mythology the Flood is known as the Gun-Yu and it was said to last for two generations. Importantly, the Chinese version of the Flood happened in the reign of the great grandson of the Yellow Emperor; or the fourth successor Emperor Yao in the third millennium BCE and it signifies the founding of the Xia and the Zhou dynasties both of which are celebrated in art and poetry as a cleansing of the soul and/or the elimination of corruption. The word ‘flood’ is still used as a metaphor for seemingly uncontrollable and negative forces in need of cleansing.
Not surprisingly, the ancient Flood stories have given rise to various aspects of ethical philosophy whereby many questions have been asked in relation to suffering and hard labour. Why must humans toil to live? Why must women experience pain in childbirth? Long before the works of Charles Darwin the Chinese understood these matters of evolution because it was written in the stars and the workings of the universe. The Chinese just understood the two situations of work and pain as a reality that reflected the life and death cycles of the greater cosmos. To the Hindus it was the Dance of Shiva and the inescapable impermanence of form.
Varieties of Consciousness.
In 1902 the American psychologist William James noted that what humans think of as normal waking consciousness is only one type of consciousness and that no account of the cosmos can be absolute. This notion appears in William James’s book, The Varieties of Religious Experience much of which James borrowed from the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834). Schleiermacher argued that religion is based on a feeling of the infinite and what is currently referred to as ‘Qualia’; or to put it differently, a quality that is inexplicable. The infinite was used by Schleiermacher to defend religion against the growing scientific and secular critique. The feeling of the infinite is linked to the intuitive inclinations and embedded into the myths and philosophies of ancient civilizations, including those of Taoism. In fact, the discourse on the infinite experience is most commonly traced to the Eastern religious philosophies, principally in the many diverse Hindu texts like the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita, ideas that later found their expression in Germanic idealism. The overall principle encapsulates the much older palaeolithic experience of star gazing. Indeed, the most ancient cave paintings have been described as the ‘infinite experience’; the terms ‘infinite’ and ‘intuitive’ being facsimiles for altered consciousness. ‘Infinite’ was the term adopted by many scholars of religion, of which William James was the most influential; and the infinite features prominently in Chinese ink art.
The New Age.
Some of the proposed ideals promulgated by William James became revitalized in the life and works of the British born theologian and philosopher Alan Watts, who pursued a rigorous Zen training and devoted his life to bringing the Eastern philosophies to a disenchanted Western youth in the 1960s. Watts viewed the meditative Zen practices as a form of psychotherapy and a suitable remedy for the 1960s dystopia. As a child Alan Watts had been influenced by Far Eastern landscape paintings and embroideries that had been given to his mother by missionaries returning from China. The few Chinese paintings that were available for viewing in England moved him to write ‘I was aesthetically fascinated with a certain clarity, transparency, and spaciousness in Chinese and Japanese art. It seemed to float…’ Chinese art emphasized the close relationship humans have with nature, a theme that guided Watt’s acetic life and ideals. For Watts Chinese art raised questions about Christianity, faith, fellowship, determinism and what Wyndham Lewis called the idea of progress as ‘time worship’ or the belief that things are valuable not for what they are, but for what they may someday become. Watts believed the idea of Western progress had failed to liberate humanity. For Watts, the European Enlightenment was better depicted in Mary Shelly’s monster Frankenstein and the view that society had lost its way. Watts gained many followers across all ages and beliefs and he contributed greatly to changing the modern European temperament.
In 1973 Ken Wilber completed his book, The Spectrum of Consciousness, in which he sought to integrate knowledge from all the disparate intellectual and religious fields into a unified philosophy of consciousness that was based on the Eastern paradigm. He also helped to launch the journal ReVision in 1978. In 1982 Wilber published his anthology The Holographic Paradigm and other Paradoxes a collection of essays and interviews, including one by physicist David Bohm. The essays looked at how the holographic paradigm relates to the fields of consciousness, mysticism and science, especially the science of quantum theory which was believed to affirm many of the esoteric beliefs. Ken Wilber formulated the basic framework of Integral Theory in which he asserted that all human knowledge and experience can be placed in a four-quadrant grid, along the axes of ‘interior-exterior’ and ‘individual-collective’. Wilber argued that the mystical traditions of the world provided a similar matrix with access to, and knowledge of, a transcendental reality which has existed in all timeframes and cultures, whereby the Eastern religions recognized the doorways between the individual and a collective unconscious. Art was viewed as just one of many doorways to the unconscious mind and it was said to be everlasting.
Motivation and Creativity.
The rat is the Chinese symbol of creativity.
We complain of the darkness in which we live our lives: we do not understand the nature of existence in general: we especially do not know the relation of our own self to the rest of existence. Arthur Schopenhauer.
ART THEORISTS HAVE LOOKED TO MOTIVATION AS AN EXPLANATION FOR WHY SOME PEOPLE ARE MORE CREATIVE THAN OTHERS. Most ancient cultures, such as the Greek, Chinese and Indian cultures had no real concept of creativity as they believed art was a discovery rather than a form of individual creation. Ancient populations believed everything including art had a divine origin. The Chinese simply called creativity ‘Qi’ (Fig 16). The ancient Greeks in particular did not have a word for ‘create’ or ‘creator’. The great Greek philosopher Plato never conceived of art as a form of human creation, he asserted that all art was an imitation of higher powers. There was one exception to this rule, poetry. The art of poetry had spiritual status as did the poet. The poet was considered to be a person of outstanding wisdom and rationality. This has not changed for the traditional Chinese ink artist whose work is perhaps best described as a visual poem because it is said to come from an essence or spirit, the only true wisdom. Chinese art developed alongside language and calligraphy which in turn has roots in Palaeolithic shamanism and the primal instincts each of which are abstractly poetic in nature.
Biblical Roots of Creativity.
In Western culture creativity finds its first conception in the Biblical book of Genesis when God was said to have created Heaven and Earth. From then onwards the idea of creation was encapsulated in a religious belief system where the act of creation was the sole domain of divine inspiration. Everything in existence was attributed to the divine. This view lasted in the West until the late seventeenth century when it reached a hiatus. The divine faced a challenge from scientific scrutiny and the arts were forthwith relegated to a separate and lesser category of human activity. Art became more closely associated with the ephemeral, imaginative, esoteric inclinations and was often attributed to the unstable personality, the ‘mad’ or the ‘bad’. In stark contrast, Chinese art was deemed natural, moral, civilized and systematic. Learning the arts was like learning algebra, it had questions and answers and it was used for solving problems.
Joseph Wallas (1926) attempted to re-formulate art into a Western system that could be viewed as natural and necessary. He investigated the phenomena of creativity from the positions of action and process. Wallas suggested that art took place through four processes, preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Preparation is the state where the individual does the initial work. First, there is an examination of the creative territory (thoughts), which might lead to the question: What are the possibilities? The process is continued by the gathering of ideas, pondering, planning and testing the application. The Wallas formula inevitably allowed for art works to be rationalized and considered partially scientific thus heightening their acceptability. Wallas did point out that the mind could just wander with no fixed end in sight and he had no real structure that might be applied to such wandering.
The Chinese Numerology System.
The Chinese system of creating art is through the use of numbers (Fig. 17).
Each stroke represents a pathway and behind the strokes sits a myth, story, event or special feature that demands a deeper contemplation and re-interpretation.
A picture tells the story of the artist as well as the context and it serves as a continuation of the artist’s beliefs. A picture can be changed, but the beliefs act as the artist’s life world and pathway, whereby the image and artist are perceived eternal and transmutable.
The Chinese Monogram..
The artist’s Monogram is the first step in telling the story of the artist.
The Chinese monograms used by artists are not easy to interpret and in modern artists they tend to be intuitive and idiosyncratic. Based on symbols and pictographs, Chinese characters combine shapes with sounds and connotations to form unique block-shaped idioms that carry a meaning rather than a recognizable signature (Fig.18). Knowledge of monograms has generally come from the many archaeological digs where researchers discovered such signs carved on ancient earthenware, in particular those excavated from Banpo Village in Xi’an City and Jiangzhai Village in Lintong. These relics are said to have been created during the Yangshao period some 6,000 years BCE. More than 4,000 years BCE people living in the Tai’an area of Shandong Province also carved signs on earthenware and more discoveries are being made as time passes. The monogram links the artist to the past and it still carries the same significance today as it did in ancient times.
Chinese pre-history is amongst the oldest in the world, although its discoveries appear to follow similar patterns of evolution elsewhere. Accordingly, the chronological order of pre-historic times in China ranged from 1.7 million years ago to the 21st century BCE. These eras were divided into the Palaeolithic Age, the Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age. The pre-historic culture of China refers to the ancient myths and legends before the emergence of formal Chinese archetypes as in such characters as Pan Gu who created the Chinese version of Heaven and Earth. As the story is told the Goddess Nüwa melted down rocks to repair the sky. There are other versions of the Nüwa story namely the Three Wise Kings and Five August Emperors. The Three Wise Kings are Chinese gods Fu, Lu and Shou. Fu represents good luck and harmony; Lu stands for authority, power and wealth, while Shou signifies good health and longevity. The Three gods are still the popular deities of wealth, prosperity, and longevity. They are known in the West as the Magi.
The emergence of pre-historic Homo Sapiens (referred to as ape men) was the elementary stage of pre-historic times in China. These figures were represented by ‘Yuanmou Man’ who lived 1.7 million years ago in today’s Yunnan Province, South-West China’ and ‘Lantian Man’ who lived in the early Paleolithic Age…’ and ‘Peking Man’ who lived about 500,000 years ago. The ape men widely used chipped stone implements and lived a gathering and hunting lifestyle. The ape men are believed to be of the same blood lineage as the primitive tribes who appeared later as shamans and their followers.
The study of Chinese bronze usually spans an extensive period of time, up to the end of the Han Dynasty (200 BCE- 220 AD). Some of the artifacts were found along with the fossil skeleton of Shantungosaurus (Shantung Lizard) in the 1950s showing just how ancient the Chinese culture really is. Nearly all of the Chinese paintings allude to this past and have the same mystical quality of a foreign place, a theme that has its roots in the animism and shamanism that extended well beyond the communal tribal lifestyle.
With this in mind, the philosophy of Chinese art has generally given impetus to space over form. Every epoch is viewed as an emergence from one space to another resulting in an overlay of spaces rather than a linear progression of objects to be viewed and interpreted. More often than not the works possess a familiarity that is aesthetically pleasing, but which is also difficult to articulate because these are semiotic motifs, which is to say they are reproduced through myth and symbolism combined in pictographs as opposed to physical, tactile objects and words. These techniques are also true of the artist’s monogram which is, in and of itself, a work of great art that is constructed over time and in deep contemplation of its purpose.
Traditional Chinese artists do not sign their works, instead they use the monogram as the pictorial story of their world. The monogram is not meant to be discernible; a monogram reflects the Chinese cosmology of transmutation which renders the status of the individual as alchemic and art a mere journey amidst other journeys; the conscious and the unconscious.
Monograms are usually coloured red because the Chinese have always viewed red as signifying good luck. Red is traditionally representative of happiness and people were forbidden to wear red at funerals because the names of the dead were previously written in red on official seals to ensure them a happy afterlife. It was also considered offensive to use red ink for Chinese names in contexts other than official seals. Hence, the monogram as the artist’s official seal is generally red. Interpreting the monogram is mainly guesswork. Some monograms contain markers of a person’s identity while others include scenes from mythological stories which resonate with the artist’s character. Monograms can also be purely ephemeral and not related to anything in particular.
Figure 18: The Monogram of Geraldine Wogan-Browne. ©The artist.
Most monograms are simple while others attempt to convey the wider cosmology as the artist encounters its segments in daily life. Some monograms are meant to be deciphered intuitively; often there are basic signs that can be used as a guide. The appearance of the sun for example is a familiar character called ‘dan’ (Fig.19).
‘Dan’ means dawn, or the sun rises upwards crossing through mountains; or the sun passing through cloud layers to tell people a new day has begun. The symbol for hills is distinctly upwardly moving, albeit with many variations. The replication of mountains in art usually indicates the home of the gods and goddesses; or the Immortals. In Chinese drawings images of mountains can often be seen piercing the clouds connecting Heaven and the Immortals to Earthlings. Ancient stories describe the lives of mountain characters, many of whom are hybridized monsters, half-human and half-animal. Many characters are purely imaginary and do not exist in the natural world. Some of the hybrid symbols form the earliest developments in the Chinese language. Indeed, the Chinese are closer to their ancient roots than any modern Western nation and they have maintained this connection through their traditional arts.
Often monograms and pictographs are less open to interpretation because to know them in a material sense is deemed an impropriety. One cannot interpret a spirit or soul because it is believed these entities are the transmutation of their alchemical elements. The artist may revise a monogram according to life changes as they occur, but this too has limits for interpretation. Historically, some artists have been elevated to the role of the divine, which in turn is reflected in their monogram. Human dignitaries are often promoted to divine roles after they die, usually a respectable amount of time elapses before the appointment.
The Limits to Deciphering Monograms.
As an example of the difficulties encountered in tracing an artist’s monographic signature it is useful to note that the oldest of inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty had vocabularies of over 5,000 symbols. The recently published Han Yu Da Zi Dian, a comprehensive Chinese language dictionary has over 54,000 entries, which suggests just how vast the Chinese vocabulary has become. Monograms are abstract, but they can also be technically complex. In the Chinese language every character can be written in accordance with a particular purpose, for example there is a regular script, a grass script, official script and more. Further, every script can be written differently using multiple styles. For instance, the bai shou tu (catalogue) shows one hundred ways to write ‘shou’ (longevity) in official script. Pictograms are deemed simple forms of communication, but they can be meaningless unless one knows the disposition of the creator. What the monogram teaches the reader is that one can never fully know another’s mind.
Chinese art has been used for messaging, rituals and ornamental scripts to decorate palaces, cathedrals, crypts, so on and so forth, but there is more to Chinese ink art than the need for human expression. From a Chinese perspective life is impermanent and art provides the reification of what is considered timeless.
Chinese Characters and Strokes.
Chinese art has its roots in calligraphy which in turn has a highly refined system of process. Each Chinese character is written as a fixed sequence of’ strokes (Fig.20).
There are very few basic types of strokes and each has its own prescribed direction, length, and contour. The dynamics of these strokes when produced with a brush are revealed in the overall characterization of the complete symbol.
Thickness of the stroke is subject to a system of rules and it aims for a desired effect and meaning. There are several individual techniques that manage how the brush should contact the paper, whether or not it sweeps smoothly across the surface or how the movement is ended abruptly (Fig.21).
If’ the character is written rapidly, one stroke must glide into the next with ease and continuity. Every stroke must be written in the correct order, otherwise different distortions occur and different meanings are conveyed. Importantly, each stroke must be a reflection of the previous stroke and it must anticipate the stroke that will follow it.
The earliest surviving Chinese characters, inscribed on the Shang Dynasty ‘oracle bones’ of about 1500 BCE already included characters that went beyond simple pictorial representation and some of the same rules of interpretation still apply today.
Intuitive Reading of Signs.
For people brought up with the West’s style of reading, the Chinese writing is very difficult to comprehend because most of the characters are directly symbolic such as numerals, while others are pictorial, indirect and normally consist of two parts: a ‘phonetic’ which suggests the pronunciation, and a ‘radical’ which provides a much looser meaning. For example, the character in the picture (Fig.22)means ‘ocean’ and is pronounced xâng. The left side of the character, the three short strokes, is an abbreviation of a character which means ‘water’ and is pronounced shui. This is the radical. It has been borrowed only for its meaning, ‘water’. The right side of the character means ‘sheep’ and is pronounced xâng. This is the phonetic. It has been borrowed only for its sound value, xâng.
A speaker of Chinese encountering a character for the first time might know the only Chinese word that sounds like and means something like ‘water’ is the word gâng meaning ‘ocean’, so meaning will be only an approximation. To be succinct, the ancient Chinese language depends on a free space approach to interpretation, a space for intuition, where everyone can have a different answer, unlike the Western languages which are more distinctly linear in character and meaning.
Figure 23. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne.© D. Woloschin.
Perspectives in Chinese Art.
While all art needs to be examined from multiple perspectives, ancient Chinese ink art needs to be considered in terms of its intuitive advocacy, morality and the artist’s belief in immortality. Chinese art is closely linked to Chinese medicine so it should come as no surprise to find that art is deemed a desirable vehicle for bringing about balance and/or equilibrium. Chinese art has healing imperatives. Quiescent and higher levels of consciousness have been a key doctrine in the Eastern philosophies for the promotion of physical and mental health and the ancient ink arts provide a pivotal point in the disciplines of history and healing. The focus is on contemplation and the techniques provide a very detailed map for what is believed to constitute the balanced life duly manifest in the love of nature.
Chinese art has received little attention in the Northern hemisphere largely because the motivation to create traditional Chinese art differs from that of the West. Chinese art has been regarded as a non-material form of self-examination and a pathway for development. The application of drawing therefore has a strident system of rules, much like calligraphy where each stroke is placed on the paper sequentially and in accordance with a commitment or belief. Indeed, each stroke might be considered as the unspoken mantra of the ink artist.
Numbers serve as a guide (Fig.23). Rather than linking each number with a direct meaning as Western Pythagorean Numerology does, Chinese Numerology and its expression in art is generally based on the sounds the numbers make when spoken aloud. Each number carries positive or negative qualities. If a number sounds similar to a word that is deemed negative, then the number is also considered negative.
Example: The difference between East and West in Numerology.
East: In Chinese, the word for ‘one’ sounds like the word for ‘honour’ in some Chinese dialects. This number represents independence, but this can also mean loneliness or isolation. The number 1 is the only number associated with the Water element, which symbolizes an ability to break through barriers on one’s way to something.
West: In the west, the number 1 is a masculine number, the number of beginnings and creation. It is the warrior, a primal number that sets action and change into motion. Positively, this number is associated with leadership, energy, courage and initiative, but negatively, the 1 can play out as impatient, impulsive and confrontational. The 1 is at its most positive when in the realm of work.
The artistic lexicons of the West have been greatly influenced by the arrival of modernism which aimed to eradicate old intuitions and mythologies. Modernism also removed people from their relationship to the land and hitherto, its mysticism. In order to provide a clear picture of the differences between the modern Eastern and Western traditions in art it is necessary to have an understanding of German Expressionism. German Expressionism was grounded in the overwhelming desire for individualism and freedom and it found its most effective voice in the production of modernist art. However, there is much more to this art than the mere execution of painting or drawing.
Nationalism, Liberty and Expressionism.
The notion of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ was made popular during the French Revolution. In 1790 Robespierre proposed that it should be written on National Guard uniforms and the nation’s flags. In 1848 the terms were included in the French Constitution as a major principle of the new Republic. There have been many variations in the way these sentiments have been conveyed including ‘unity, strength and virtue’ used in the Masonic Lodges and ‘work, family, fatherland’ during the Nazi occupation. The triad would later be adopted by the artists who called themselves Expressionists as a demonstration of their ‘unity with nature’.
Expressionism was a cultural fringe that was created towards the 1920s to give voice to a growing disenchantment with Western authoritarianism and modern industrialization. Artists and intellectuals viewed the modernist agenda of successive governments as disruptive to families and workers. There was concern that the modern ways were overriding the traditional social values. Many of the avant-garde artists condemned modern materialism and urbanization and created new movements that included the arts such as post-impressionism Fauvism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism.
The avant-garde found its impetus under the 1920s German Weimar Government and it was to become a leading exponent of Expressionist painting, sculpture, modern music and film. However, these innovative arts also created controversy and unrest. The status quo in the German nation had their own traditions that were grounded in the classicism of Ancient Greece and its offspring, the Roman Empire. The classicists rebelled against modernism. Added to this, the Nazis, who were gaining immense power in Germany, viewed the new culture of the Weimer period as degenerate. This view was largely influenced by the Italian psychiatrist Cesar Lombroso who believed the trend was the decent back to the primitive, a child-like stage of growth that involves a regression along evolutionary and genetic lines. Lombroso argued that the primitive turn was a way of removing the mind from worldly chaos.
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and his Theory of Evolution reached Italy in 1860. The publication arrived at the height of Italy’s political unification. Caesar Lombroso (1835–1909) was a prominent Italian medical practitioner and intellectual of international repute known chiefly for his work on criminality. Lombroso had argued that madness and genius were two sides of the same psychobiological condition; degeneration. The idea found strong appeal amidst the German naturalists and the Nazis who soon labelled anyone they disliked as degenerate.
The German Nazis used the Roman Empire as a model for their aspirations to gain power across Europe. They fashioned the German nation into the Fatherland which in turn became their tool for authority and propaganda. Under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler all the modern arts were banned in favour of those that promulgated the political ethos of German purity, militarism and dedication to the new Socialist Republic. Everything else was said to be the product of artists who were un-German, Jewish and/or Bolshevist. German Expressionists who already retaliated against the modernist regime turned to the traditional use of folklore and advanced the cause of elitism and racial purity. It was these ideas that would become the bedrock of the German Third Reich and result in the heinous atrocities of the Death Camps during the Second World War.
The extremist ideas were easily accepted because essentially they were already prevalent throughout the history of Germany. Racial purity was exemplified in Wilhelm Riehl’s Land und Leute (1857-63), which advocated a return to the land and a ban on mixed breeding. Carl Vinnen’s Worpswede Stimmungsladschaften [mood landscapes] and Arnold Bocklin’s mythological landscapes also depicted a romantic vision of rural life as did the work of Adolf von Menzel’s a Journey Through Beautiful Nature (1892). Expressionist artists took on naturalism and primitivism (now a politically inappropriate term) by way of their own experimentations, ambiguities and insecurities and these events inadvertently rewrote the rules on European art.
Expressionism was an extremely creative period, the use of African tribal sculptures by the Expressionists resonated with their own philosophies of naturalism and freedom; a sentiment shared by most of the European Romantics. The Expressionists politicized art taking it beyond the classical mode that had been defined by a system of Western imperialist values and they envisioned an art for the people. Art became focused on the raw emotions transcribed in the notion of wilderness and the inner psychic experience. In his anthropological investigations Emile Durkheim used the cliché the ‘raw’ and the ‘cooked’ to differentiate between the civilized world and the tribal gathering, otherwise called the pre-modern and uncivilized world in need of salvation.
In France, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso became known for their obscure figurative and still life paintings. The School of Paris artists revamped the already colourful treatments of the post-Impressionists Cézanne and Gauguin. They changed the general perspective using a different colour palette that deviated from the natural world. Art was drawn from the imagination rather than nature. Even more bizarre were the Cubist shapes, some put together in complex structures with others standing alone. European art was given over to new forms of interpretation and sometimes no interpretation. Shape was defined by the space which in turn was given a new and vivid speculation of possible inner worlds. Added to this were the intimate chiaroscuro forms and dimensions conveying light and darkness.
While the cultural changes helped to shape early modernist art in the West, they were also pervaded with different levels of consciousness and emotion, the likes of which were becoming the topics of new disciplines, in particular psychology, anthropology and sociology. The new disciplines gave impetus to new social movements and alternative lifestyles that were vastly different materially and intellectually. Groups were more complex and rebellious and there were more questions than answers so inevitably European artists would look beyond Africa to lands further afield; they would look to the mysterious Orient for inspiration.
The Snake: Maker of magic and good fortune.
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. ―
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER BEEN CREATED IN THE WORLD BEGINS WITH NATURE. For ancient tribal people the lack of understanding for the physical world resulted in everything being relegated to magic (Fig.24).
Figure 24: Chinese symbol for magic. ©Wiki Commons.
Prior to the formation of a civilized Chinese society and the spread of world religions Asia was comprised of local groups united by rituals and ceremonies that were animistic, totemic and shamanic. Many parts of the world had their origins in shamanic systems, but in Asia it remained the mainstay of a society that extended way beyond the tribal lifestyle. The magic rituals were mediated by medicine men (and women) who were said to journey to the spirit world through self-induced trance-like states. These states were brought about by chant, dance, prayers or mind altering plants and fungi. The aim was to receive messages from the gods and convey them to the mass population for prophecy, advice or healing. Sometimes the journey was taken simply in celebration of the natural world, sometimes to cure illness or acknowledge a death and generally to welcome a change in season. The spiritual and shamanic heritage is preserved to this day in traditional forms of Chinese art especially those works based on the philosophic teachings of Taoism which is principally practiced by the Han Chinese.
Modern China does not advocate religion as such; however, all the people of China share common social and ritualistic practices that include the veneration of natural forces, the ancestors and a belief in the rational order of earth and the cosmos, which can be influenced by human beings and their rulers, but cannot be significantly altered. The gods and spirits (shen) or the natural forces ‘can be nature deities from cities or rural deities, cultural heroes and demigods, ancestors and progenitors, and/or deities of the kinship’. The stories that tell of the existence of these gods are codified into a vast canon of Chinese myth and symbolism.
Ancient shamanism has its origins in the mythologies of the Upper Palaeolithic cultures, which in China are known as the Hongshan. The Hongshan contains the earliest examples of shamanic Taoism. The Flemish philosopher Ulrich Libbrecht wrote extensively on the topic of shamanism and was believed to be the first to notice that some of the features of Taoism resembled what he called ‘Wuism’ (Chinese shamanism). Libbrecht described two eras of shamanic practice, the Shang and the Zhou dynasties. Much of the spiritual travel was reproduced through the depictions of nature as the penultimate mystery and a place where animals held a special place of honour within a completely nature based system. For example, the crane symbolized longevity and eternal life, as well as fidelity, solitude, independence, and grace. In the Chinese belief system animals were considered to be much more intelligent and closer to humans on the evolutionary scale than anything described in Western philosophy. In ancient times the Chinese believed the White Crane represented wisdom and it was said to be blessed by the gods. Cranes were also thought to be mounts of gods able to fly them backwards and forwards to the Isle of the Immortals. The Egyptians also saw cranes as heavenly messengers and since cranes sometimes feed on snakes the early Christians viewed them as Satan’s natural enemies. In Greco-Roman mythology cranes were sacred to the goddess Demeter as their annual migration occurred at the same time as Demeter’s daughter Persephone returns from the underworld. The ancient Greeks saw the crane as a guide to the realm of the dead. The crane was also a symbol of the Celtic god Pwyll, king of the underworld. The crane is still highly valued in Chinese art and literature and its symbolism still features prominently in all aspects of daily life in China and beyond.
Many of the animal sentiments were derived from Buddhism and its animist past. For example, in way the humble ant shows us how to work, the bee how to live in harmony. And: One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter. In China animals were considered to be human ancestors and they were highly revered.
The art of the Shang dynasty developed around the worship of ancestors, animal and human. The main gods from this period were not the forces of nature rather they were deified emperors or heroes called di (‘deities’) and included the most important creator Shangdi (Primordial Deity). Shangdi is identified with the primordial dragon; a symbol of the universal power (Qi) in its yang/female (life) aspect, its replicate in Hinduism is Kali, in Christianity the Virgin, in Paganism the Harlot.
Western paganism has the dragon portrayed as the serpent, often half-snake and half-female. In Greek mythology the half-woman and half-serpent creature was called Echidna, she was a monster who lived alone in a cave and was said to have given birth to all the other monsters. Hesiod’s Echidna resembled the modern day images of the mermaid fish, a semi-beautiful and semi-fearsome creature believed to correspond to the gregarious female temperament. In most of the ancient mythologies the serpent is generally portrayed as the female also perceived to be the force behind life and death and mostly regarded as troublesome. The serpent in the Chinese idiom is known as Nüwa or Nügua, she is a goddess in Chinese myth best known for creating humankind and repairing the pillar of heaven (Fig 25).
Figure 25: Nüwa, ©Wiki Commons and www.pagan Chinese.com
Hesiod described the Nüwa–Echidna goddess as ‘a flesh eating monster’… The description lasted well into the early Christian era when the body of every female was considered tainted by sin.
From Hesiod: The Homeric Hymns.
And in a hollow cave she bore another monster, irresistible, in no wise like either to mortal men or to the undying gods, even the goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth.
Myths hold multiple meanings, but they generally disguise aspects of the human character that are unacceptable to the community or tribe. In the Hindu myths the half-female and half-snake creatures were called the Naga. The word Naga in the Sanskrit language means snake or serpent, but it is also a disparaging term when used to describe a person. The Naga were a group of people spread throughout India during the epic of the Mahabharata and today they form several indigenous tribes. The Indian Cobra is still called a Naga in Hindi. A female Naga is a Nagin or Nagini and is also known as a complaining female.
In Chinese art as in language it is not unusual to find the root of a word stemming from ancient beliefs. For example, in Chinese mythology the Snake is one of a 12-year cycle of animals which appear on the Chinese zodiac; this in turn is reflected in the Chinese calendar system. The 12 animals in the 12-year cycle are designated according to Chinese myth and the way the animals relate to human tendencies, especially in the desire for survival. The propensity for human competition is conveyed in a myth describing a race across the river to decide who will be at the top of the zodiac cycle. As the story goes, the Snake was scurrilous and compensated for not being the best swimmer by hitching a ride on the hoof of a horse (Fig 26).
When the Horse was just about to cross the finish line, the snake jumped ahead scaring the horse and thus taking first place in the race. Another version of this story states that the ox carried the rat across the river and the rat jumped to shore and won the race. Myths change over time in accordance with changing social values and the story of the race probably indicates fierce competition between the Chinese clans for territory.
A similar story highlights a time in China when men were being conscripted into the military and sent to serve in far-away armies for many years on end. The tale describes the father of a young girl who was forced into the army and sent away leaving his distraught daughter to fend for herself. Missing her father very much the girl promised the family horse that she would marry him if he searched for her father and brought him back home. The horse left and eventually returned with the father who was horrified to hear of his daughter’s pending marriage to the horse so he killed it. The animal’s skin was removed then hung up in a courtyard for tanning. However, one day when the daughter was out playing, the wind blew fiercely and the horsehide flew into the air before wrapping around the body of the young woman. The daughter then flew off into the Heavens and was never to return. After days of searching for his daughter and the horsehide the father found that his daughter had been transformed into a silkworm and was living in a mulberry tree.
Silk production in China goes back to the Neolithic Yangshao culture of the 4th millennium BCE. Silk was unique to China until the Silk Road opened some time during the second half of the first millennium BCE after which China still maintained a virtual monopoly over silk production at least for another thousand years. The wearing of silk was an important indicator of social class. Silkworms were the topic of a number of myths and silk was not confined to the production of material for garments, silk was also used as a base for sacred art and calligraphy.
The horse, also a symbol of social status, was key to portraying a patron’s status in the arts. The horse was a valiant companion in inter-state wars and was decorated accordingly. However, it was the Taoist’s white mule that was more sacred because it was said to have carried the Immortals across the seas to China and was thus the animal associated with the mysteries. To this end, the mule signified the importance of inner strength over outward appearances. Mules were also used for the transportation of goods and although slow they often displayed more endurance over long distances and their reliability was vital for the transportation of silk.
Hsi-Ling-Shih and Royal Silk.
Popular Chinese legend gives the title Goddess of Silk to Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, who was believed to have ruled China somewhere in the region of 3000 BCE. Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih is credited with the introduction of silkworm rearing and the invention of the loom.
The Emperor Huang-Ti is said to have ordered his wife Hsi-Ling-Shi to investigate what was eating the leaves on his mulberry trees. She found white worms that spin shiny cocoons.
According to myth, Lady Hsi-Ling-Shi accidentally dropped one of the cocoons into her hot tea and a delicate filament separated itself. She drew it out by unwinding a long thin single strand of silk.
The symbolism surrounding the horse-human hybridization is much older. The origins of the Horse-Headed Lady or goddess stem back to the first Wu shaman who was also the patroness of sericulture; (farming silkworms) (Fig.27).
In shamanism the spinning of silk is equated with the weaving of the web of life, a symbol shared with many pagan belief systems.
The Eight Immortals.
The Eight Immortals were part of China’s oral shamanic history and they continued to appear in the records of the Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. It was Wu Yuantai of the Ming dynasty who wrote The Emergence of the Eight lmmortals describing their perilous journey to the East. In Chinese mythology the Eight Immortals were deemed alchemic; that is to say they knew all the secrets of nature and transmutation, this meant they represented all aspects of Chinese society, males, females, the old, the young, the rich, the noble, the poor and the humble (Fig. 28-29).
The tales of the Immortals give some indication as to the origins of Taoist egalitarianism. The Taoist system was not devoid of hierarchy or in many cases unfairness, but it did attempt to put the responsibility for equality onto the individual. This was backed up by superstitions. Each Immortal was allotted the power to create talismans endowed with a certain meaning that would provide good luck, a happy life and/or the destruction of evil. The origin of the talisman was never spoken of as the Eight Immortals were hidden in the Taoist Wu teachings, but when called upon in the form of talismans they were called ‘Roaming Immortals’ .
Not only were the Immortals revered by Taoists, but by all Chinese society. They were the foundations for various literatures, that include poetry, folk tales, songs and rituals and they are pictured frequently in ink art. Symbols depicting the attributes of each of the Immortals were also featured on a wide variety of items including porcelain, bronze, ivory and embroidered objects and they are still used to decorate objects today.
Reading the Bones.
Almost all of the Chinese myths hark back to naturalism, shamanism and Taoism and none make any distinction between the spiritual life of the animal and that of the human; all are equal. Wu shamans (also known as Chu shamans) were spirit mediums who practiced divination, prayer, sacrifice, rainmaking and healing in the Chinese tradition and they have existed since the Palaeolithic Age. Various contingencies of Wu shaman contributed thousands of years of creativity to Chinese folk religion, mythology, poetry and works of art, all were based on divination and honouring the land that communities depended upon for their survival. It appears that Wu shamans were the first natural ecologists and they were the first known prophets. They heated animal shoulder blades in a fire and used them to ask questions of the spirits. These shamanic practices date back at least to the end part of the fourth millennium BCE and they reached their height during the Shang Period. Wu shamans were aware of the unconscious and it is now commonly accepted that the ritual readings which occurred in pre-history were crucial in the development of human perceptions.
The Shang Dynasty is estimated to be the earliest known phase of Chinese civilization. The Shang people were mostly Neolithic, but according to Chinese literature the race grew into a cohort where huge class divisions saw a ruling class using bronze especially for ritual ceremonies, while others remained more primitive. Individual Wu shamans became known from sources such as the Classic of Mountains and Seas, a highly sophisticated work which portrays the mythological creatures that made up the shamanic system and dictated the terms of survival. The exact author(s) of the book and the time it was written are unknown. Various theories have been put forward. One of the proposed authors is believed to be the mythical figure of Yu the Great who is said to have made attempts to stop the deluge. In the Hebrew and Christian versions this character would have been Noah who built the Ark and (as some say), eugenically collected the species designated to survive and create the new order. The consensus among modern Sinologists is that the Classic was not written at a single time or by a single author, but rather by numerous people from the period of the Warring States to the beginning of the Han dynasty.
The first edition of the literary Classic was attributed to Liu Xiang from the Western Han, who among other things catalogued the Han imperial library. Liu Xiang was born in Xuzhou and was a distant relative of Liu Bang, the founder of the Han dynasty. Liu Xiang was a member of a group of Confucian officials, including Xiao Wangzhi, who wished to limit the power of female members of the Emperor’s family. The earliest shamanic influences were decidedly female in nature and Liu Xiang who supported them ended up on the wrong side of the gender wars and was sent to prison.
Legends about historical rulers are not always accurate, but archaeology has corroborated the connections between the Wu shamans and the elite. Two tombs of high status individuals from the Longshan Period (2500-1700 BCE) cemetery at Taosi, Shanxi Province, revealed four intact pottery drums, key Wu paraphernalia. It appears from these studies that eventually the elite could not outwit the Divine forces so they decided upon a merger. The Emperors set out to join with the shamans at around the time of the Shang Dynasty from roughly 1500 to 1050 BCE. Together the rulers and shamans monopolized the spirituality of communities, but it was not a mutually beneficial arrangement. The Emperors leading the journey between Heaven and Earth used their position to advantage gradually increasing their power and influence. Shaman Emperors became far more powerful than their predecessors as they had material wealth and resources to match their spiritual status. Sinologist John Hay (1973) highlights evidence of the immense tyrannical power that was found in the Southern ceremonial altars:
Altars were surrounded by burials of no fewer than 852 people, 15 horses and five chariots, ten oxen, eighteen sheep and thirty-five dogs. All of these lives had undoubtedly been sacrificed in consecration of the buildings, which are now thought of as the royal temples.
The Emperor shamans were generally conniving and as part of their worship they asked questions that would further their interests, such as how to win wars, improve hunting; procure a good harvest, and gain more power and wealth.
For ordinary folks questions to the gods had always been about morality with the expectation that living a good life would be sufficient for gaining food, shelter and well-being, but archaeological evidence suggests that over time cunning outweighed morality. Ritual was used as a way of demonstrating imperial authority and it was horribly brutal. Human sacrifice, often referred to as ritual murder, was common and killing became less spiritual and more pragmatic as timed passed. The practice was not unique to the Chinese; many European monarchs demonstrated their power by decapitating their enemies and displaying their heads on spikes as an example of royal power and tyranny. In China the treachery was not just pitched against civilization it was the order of civilization which might explain why spirituality and naturalism became a highly individual and personalized practice.
The Separation of Powers.
Over the centuries, shamanism in ancient China evolved into a rational and procedural exercise carried out by a treacherous bureaucracy. As John Hay (1973) suggests, by the time of the Western Zhou, from 1050 to 771 BCE, the power of the genuine shaman had significantly decreased or gone underground. What followed was a growing separation between the political affairs of state and other religious activities. Emperors no longer employed shamans as advisors at court so the shamans became independent and sought their clients amongst the poor, healing the sick and performing magic in an attempt to abate droughts, floods and inadequate harvests. There was little uniformity to the changes in power, but Chinese shamanism remained vibrant if not always visible.
The Songs of the South.
The Songs of the South attributed to the fourth century BCE poet Qu Yuan describes the shamanic tales and beliefs. As in most cultures the supernatural dominates the lives of people who were generally powerless. Folklore provides hope and it delivers a number of skills for the cultivation of lands and goods. Survival of the shamanic rituals in the state of Chu became identified with folk religion, this in turn developed into a countervailing force against royal tyranny which the rulers desperately needed to tame and eventually succeeded. Nonetheless, the skills of the shamanic adepts endured.
Art and Wu Women.
Women are believed to be amongst the first Wu shamans and the Wu or Wumen School is the name given to a group of painters as a means of remembering the Wu arts. The school worked during the Ming dynasty; but it was far from egalitarian, rather it consisted mostly of affluent men. The Wu School of painting has been characterized by inscriptions describing the painting, the date, method, or reason for the work, which is usually seen as a vehicle for spiritual self-expression. The artist Shen Zhou (1427–1509) is usually cited as the founder of the Wu School. Shen Zhou was a native of Changzhou (modern Suzhou) and promulgated a style that marked some of the earliest works of the Southern Song region (Fig 30).
The style is often referred to as Hokkien because the respective dialogue was influenced by the trading and immigration activities that were important in the region. Hokkien was one of the most common Chinese languages to be spoken in lands outside China. Hokkien is reportedly the language of 98.5 percent of the Chinese population in the Philippines who make up a large body of the middle class. The Chinese people have a long history of migrating to the regions and many can trace their ancestry to the Han dynasty.
Shen’s life was one of wealth and privilege, his scholarly and artistic training was designed to guide him towards absolute loyalty to China’s historical traditions. To this end Shen was accomplished in history and the classics and his paintings revealed a disciplined obedience to the Yuan dynasty and orthodox Confucianism. At the same time Shen displayed the older naturalist love for nature. He was influenced by the soft flowing renderings of the Chinese landscape and flora previously exemplified by the Yuan masters; he also stepped across the boundaries of tradition. His wealth and position allowed him this indulgence since he did not have to depend on patrons, he created works that were uniquely his own. As a result, Shen’s works are extremely feminine and reminiscent of the true Wu shaman character, which Confucianism in the Wu School had revived into a domestic familial setting. (Fig 31).
The female goddesses and female shamans find their original feminine forms of Kuan-yin reflected in the Mao-Shan Taoist tradition which has connections with the notion of purity and many of the other Buddhist teachings.
With the establishment of Confucianism and the Han dynasty female goddesses and shamans became increasingly marginalized, but they remained active in the psyche of the population and its arts. Wu has its root meaning in woman so the femininity inherent in any kind of artistic practice was not entirely lost. The name of some individual shamans included ‘Wu’ and today it often appears in Chinese family surnames. Indeed, Wu continued to be common across the arts and medicine, such as in the case of Wu Peng seen holding the Herb of Immortality. Shamans frequently appeared as characters in Chinese poetry which might also be read as an expression of repressed spirituality, sometimes referred to as the journey of the soul. Sections of poetry called Chu Ci, (the most notable being the poem Li Sao by China’s first poet, Qu Yuan) describe the Far-off Journey of the soul. Over time the flight of the shamanic spirit became a literary device used to promulgate Taoism. The summoning of the soul occurred in writing, orating, painting, chanting and dance or any activity that might induce a shifting of human consciousness.
Various works dominated the philosophical discourse. Tian Wen (Heavenly Questions) consists of series of 172 questions in verse format based on Chinese soul mythologies; the answers are contemplative not explicit which falls into line with the Taoist beliefs whereby there are no absolute answers to questions. In this respect the ancient Chinese traditions of Wu-shamanism continues to have a place in contemporary Chinese cultures, namely those of Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. The practice exists throughout the arts and it occurs within popular past times such as clairvoyance, fortune telling, exorcism, invocation and prayer. Indeed, music, dance, theatre and procession all have their roots in Wu shamanism and the soul mythologies.
Shamanism has been directly associated with the desire to alter the states of consciousness and this has flowed into the arts. Indeed, the topic has drawn interest from palaeontologists and neuroscientists alike. In a work called The Man in the Cave (2002) David Lewis-Williams views shifting consciousness as being inherent in the genesis of all religions, prayer, meditations, contemplation and art. In fact, changing consciousness may be a survival mechanism whereby all animals including cows, cats, buffalo and many other animals appear to seek out edible plants that alter consciousness. Johann Hari describes this tendency in his book Chasing the Scream (2015).
Lewis-Williams and others allude to changing consciousness as a component that evolved with the growth of the human brain. In other words, what is today called altered consciousness might once have been the normal state of consciousness for our ancestors. Lewis-Williams writes specifically about the more extreme shifts in consciousness such as ‘hallucination, trance, possession, vision, sensory deprivation and the REM dream state,’ which he argues are natural to all humankind and which, over time have been described through the medium of the arts. According to Lewis-Williams the neuropsychological… function of the human nervous system is shaped by the cultural circumstances of people experiencing altered states of consciousness and this in turn has been transcribed into pictographs on cave walls to make Upper Palaeolithic art.
To be precise, Lewis-Williams argues that mental states are pre-determined by evolution and the changes over time are reflected in the ancient drawings on cave walls. Lewis-Williams attempts to define the stages in consciousness and how they are played out in the production of art. Accordingly, in the lightest stages of altered consciousness the subject experiences geometric visual precepts, including dots, grids, zigzags, curves and lines. The shapes have been called phosphenes; Lewis-Williams uses the term ‘entoptic phenomena’, from the Greek term entoptic which means vision. He notes that there are some cases where these conditions cannot be controlled, such as in migraine headaches. Sometimes these states occur through environmental factors such as bright sunlight hitting the top of closed eyelids; in this case a person experiences a bright red light which may appear to have a centre or vortex. These visions come about due to the connections between the eye’s retina and the visual cortex in the brain known as V1. Lewis-Williams argues that the subject experiencing phosphenes has a sense of being drawn into the vortex. He believes that Neolithic artists would hide their drawings at the end of deep caves in order to replicate the vortex experience. He also suggests that these shapes can morph into animals and strange monsters and he uses the rituals of the Tukano of the Amazon Basin in order to support his theories. These were the experiences amongst all the hunter-gatherer tribes who practiced shamanism. As Lewis-Williams puts it:
Here we have an instance in which people often take hold of the possibilities of the intensified trajectory –they harness the human brain – and believe that they derive from their visions insights into an ‘alternative reality’ that, for them, may be more real than the world of daily life.
All humans experience shifting consciousness, many are not overtly aware of it happening beyond the routine changes between thought, sensation, sleep and concentration. A study by Indiana University (2001) examined four of the most common causes of altered consciousness, sensory deprivation, meditation, hypnosis and sleep; each affects mental functioning. The results of sensory deprivation were the most interesting. The researchers discovered that increasing sensory deprivation caused an added attraction to any kind of stimulus, this could include fighting, hunting, increased physical movement and art. Performance of simple tasks like rote memorizing improved; the detail also intensified. Sensory deprivation, although generally viewed in negative terms, appeared to have benefits when it comes to completing mentally strenuous tasks and it seemed to play an important role in managing stress and healing. This idea resonates with many tribal practices such as fasting, meditation and sitting in sweat lodges. It explains why seriously ill patients are often put into induced comas.
Mother of the Mountains.
The shamans attempted to make sense of a natural shifting consciousness by controlling mental focus. Good mental focus was believed to add strength to mind and body; Buddhists and Taoists would simply call this ‘mindfulness’. Mental focus is the chief component in the production of art as well as deity worship and ritual.
The feminist historian Max Dashu describes the healing powers of the ancient goddesses of China Xi Wang Mu (Hsi Wang Mu) who lived in the Kunlun mountains in China’s far West. She was one of the most common deities in ancient Chinese art. The mountains have a beautiful garden believed to form the connection between Heaven and Earth. Growing in the garden are the peaches of immortality, which are said to have a perfume offering a unique sensory experience of inner peace. The fruit grows on a colossal Tree, only ripening once every 3000 years. The branches of the tree are said to form a cosmic axis with a ladder adjoining the two worlds of earth and spirit (Heaven). Only the spirits and shamans used the ladder to journey to the land of the Immortals. Xi Wang Mu guards the garden from a grotto made of jade the most prized Chinese stone, said to signify eternity.
As Dashu writes: Xi Wang Mu controls the cosmic forces: time and space and the pivotal Great Dipper constellation. With her powers of creation and destruction, she ordains life and death, disease and healing, and determines the life spans of all living beings (Fig 33).
Figure 33: Ursa Major Constellation (the Great Dipper). ©Wiki Commons.
Chinese astronomers called the constellation of Ursa Major the Jade Balance of Fate. Chinese peasants called it the Grain Measure and it was also commonly known as the Big Bear. In Greek mythology the god Zeus hid the nymph Callisto from his wife Hera by changing her into a bear. Her son, Actas did not know she was a bear and while hunting one day came across Callisto grazing. To keep Actas from accidentally killing his mother Zeus placed them together into the sky as the Big and Little Bear (now the Big and Little Dipper).
The exact nature of Xi Wang Mu’s divinities in the Shang dynasty is unclear; she features in the earliest scripts, the Classic of Mountains and Seas, also known as the Guideways of Mountains and Seas. The work is taken from a cosmography of mythical creatures and is thought to be compiled between the 4th and 1st centuries BCE. The hybridized creatures that appear in the work were not considered allegorical; rather they were said to exist in order to provide guidance for travellers. The narrative contains descriptions of the Chinese geography that includes hundreds of mountains, rivers, islands, and seas, along with minerals, flora, and medicine. The Classic of Mountains and Seas is modelled on Chinese shamanism and is regarded as one of the most prized of Chinese classics.
Xi Wang Mu may well be viewed as a forerunner to the Greek goddess Artemis. Homer refers to her as Artemis of the wild land, Mistress of Animals. The connection between Artemis and Xi Wang Mu reflects the propensity of global shamanic practices across East and West and indeed, how the shamanic ritual has survived in the production of art, more particularly in China.
The most obvious shamanic roots can be found in the performing arts and the implements used for the ancient spirit journey which have changed little over time. Shamans used drums, costumes, masks, chanting and verse to convey their beliefs. These performances were often copied from the behaviour of animals in the wild. The original shamans would generally have a medicine bag containing sacred objects picked from nature such as stones, bones, leaves and seed pods. In recent times there has been renewed interest in shamanism with the creation of the urban shaman, perhaps as a reflection of the global chaos or a technologically complex world in need of mythical explanation. Humans have a need to connect on many different levels and the arts, ancient and modern provide the opportunity to connect and question.
The Rooster: Also known as Fenghuang or phoenix signifies Good Luck.
To have body and quiescence unimpaired
It is this that is called ‘being able to move on’. Chuang-tze.
TWO PHILOSOPHIES DOMINATED ANCIENT CHINA, TAOISM AND CONFUCIANISM. The symbol for the Tao is the classic Yin/Yang circle, also titled the ‘Taiji (Fig. 34).
Figure 34. Symbol for Taoism ©.Wiki Commons.
The dark side of the Yin represents a vast array of concepts including the passive, receptive aspects of human behaviour. The light Yang represents all things that are active, penetrating, hard and expanding.
The Taoist philosophy is complex in its classical doctrine. Notwithstanding, one can see from a glance there are nuances to the interactions of the two aspects of the Tao’s design which have a material replicate in the more scientific proton and electron. The Tao is a symbol for nature which tends to be highly repetitive in arrangement. Taoism is therefore more akin to the atomic structure of the universe than other beliefs based on the various monotheist forms. Yin and Yang are essential compliments of each other with one providing a meaning for the other. Hence, the existence of one necessitates the existence of the other and it is said that without both there would be no cosmos, no living forces, no existence. The unification of the intertwined dark and light forces is expressed symbolically by placing a white dot in the middle of the dark area of the circle and a black dot in the middle of the light area. Put differently, Yin always contains the seeds of Yang. Yang always contains the seeds of Yin and this is referred to as the celestial dance of the eternal.
Taoism begins with the cosmological creation of its originator Lao Tzu who is said to have promulgated the belief as he travelled across China in the 6th and 5th Century BCE. Accordingly, it is believed that Taoism was born at the same time Lao Tzu was conceived after his mother gazed upon a falling star. He supposedly remained in the woman’s womb for 62 years before being born under a plum tree. (The Chinese surname shares its character Li with the plum fruit). Lao Tzu is said to have emerged as a grown man with a full grey beard and long earlobes, both symbols of wisdom and long life. The story resonates with the birth of the Greek goddess Athena. When Zeus married his first wife Metis the Oceanic goddess she soon became pregnant and according to prophecy, it was said that Metis would bear a son who might pose a severe threat to the almighty Zeus. After Metis revealed her pregnancy Zeus swallowed the child in order to protect his kingdom. Nine months later Zeus started to experience pain in his head and asked Hephaestus the god of blacksmiths, fire and volcanoes for assistance. Hephaestus opened Zeus’s head with an axe giving birth to the goddess Athena. The goddess Athena was also fully grown and transgender, she was dressed in warrior armour and she was holding a shield as a symbol of life and protection.
The philosophies of Confucius were a practical response to the warring factions (Fig.35).
Fig. 35. ©Wiki Commons. History of China.com
Confucius espoused personal values and a strict morality. He made no distinction between the expectations of society and the governments that ruled; he believed in honesty and social justice and promoted the well-known principle, ‘do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself’. Indeed, in the time of Confucius China had a rigid code of morality that survived to underscore most of the world’s current monotheist religions. Confucius championed strong family loyalty, respect for ancestors and elders and notably he believed women should be subordinate to their husbands. In this respect Confucian society was immutable and controlling, but it also maintained its links to a more ancient animism that was expressed in the love of nature. Confucianism was distinctly patriarchal, whereas Taoism maintained the more ancient feminine principles.
Taoism today encompasses the belief that there is no separation between the spirit and the material worlds and this includes all plants, animals, rocks, geographic features such as mountains and rivers, as well as the other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind and shadows. According to Taoism everything in existence has a spirit or soul. Taoism also attributes souls to abstract concepts such as words, numbers, emotions and feelings, as well as to identities, metaphors and stories. There is therefore a spirit in signs, language, art and pictographs.
In the West Taoism is often linked with the pessimistic philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Michel Foucault, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and more recently John N. Gray and Peter Singer. There are many similarities between pessimism and Taoism. Pessimists see the aspirations of humans as being linked to history and progress and believe this has caused great human suffering.
Pessimists try to explain human aggression by asserting that human foreknowledge of their own eventual fate forces them to live with a ‘terror’ that is present in every moment of the day. The terror is absolute because it is always already underscored by the inability to take control of one’s death. Taoism and Buddhism advocate the acceptance of pain and death and both seek the means to detach from its terror through discipline and meditation.
This brings the discussion closer to the true meaning of art and its benefits in the reduction of pain and terror. Art dissolves the impacts of high emotions and physical pain by shifting consciousness, or to put it more simply by altering the mind’s focus.
It is often said that a Taoist is a ‘short-term pessimist and long-term optimist’ because s/he knows things are always changing and that when balance is lost it will eventually be restored again in a different domain.
Art Transcending Dualities.
The dualities facing humans were uniquely expressed by the French philosopher Rousseau who believed the soul had become so corrupted that the arts (which had no soul) had advanced towards perfection. Rousseau examined the development of the arts and sciences as a way of describing the fall of man from a ‘golden age’ or a perfect ‘state of nature’. He said: When there is no effect, there is no cause to seek. But here (discussing the arts and science) the effect is certain, the depravity real, and our souls have been corrupted in proportion to the advancement of our sciences and arts toward perfection.
Taoists believe that when the social and political systems are turbulent they are lacking a balanced Yin energy. This is caused by forcing unbalanced and unsustainable activities upon nature and its inhabitants; the result is a damaging negativity or bad (Qi).
The Taoist way is to step back from the dualities because nothing will stop the deepening Yin from returning balance to the world. Thus, Taoism overrides all human interests in a perceived never ending natural cycle. In this respect, modern painting is often regarded as egoist whereby in the humanist tradition the ego enforces itself upon the audience compelling the spectator to respond with emotional sensations and stimulation. In stark contrast the Chinese artist, especially in the execution of landscape, invites the audience into a sacred space through quiescence and profound humility.
The Mind-Body Split.
Sinologist David N. Keightley makes the point that as the Western world gets driven further into economic globalization and compartmentalization so too will the mind body split see the conscious will overcome by the ‘involuntary instincts’ …social battles… and metaphysical confusions’, all of which add up to a condition of mass unhappiness.
The world is governed by a system of dualities. In this binary system the state of war opposes the state of peace. Conversely, peace that brings about forms of complacency or non-creativeness will arouse the pre-historic warrior spirit in the human psyche which is always already poised for such a challenge. In evolutionary terms this dynamic keeps the species moving forward. In order to find a balance Keightley states,
‘there seems to be a genuine need for an essential, Western practice (of Buddhism, Taoism, Qi Gong… Tai Chi, and so on) that is pragmatic, effective, and experiential rather than doctrinal, traditional lineage-transmission, and disciplinary’.
Taoism is a philosophical and ethical tradition that emphasizes living in harmony with the life forces of nature. The Phases Paradigm (Fig. 36) is described by ancient Taoists as a graphic representation of all so-called terrestrial phenomena placed into five organizing poles along the circumference of a circle.
This model has been used for more than two millennia to describe and predict the complex relationships humans have with their environment and it is associated with bodily health and disease. The early Taoist philosophers used the metaphor of the Five Elements, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water to explain the interaction of everything in the Universe. The model represents the evolving cyclical seasons by dividing the year into five phases; Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Each season was appointed an element that would explain the nature of the seasonal changes and interactions. These same principles were later applied to all aspects of life, whether it was physical, mental, or spiritual.
Fire generates Earth, Earth generates Metal, Metal generates Water, Water generates Wood, and Wood, completing the circle, generates Fire. This Generating Cycle is the sympathetic cycle of harmony which sees each element flowing from the previous element and giving support to the following element. The Controlling Cycle is the non-sympathetic cycle of dominance wherein each element is controlled by one other element that is recognized as its stronger counterpart. Fire controls Metal, Metal controls Wood, Wood controls Earth, Earth controls Water, and Water Fire. This continuous cycle of mutual generation control sustains and balances the Universe. Therefore, action takes place through the natural elements, it is not forced.
Modern psychology sees control and sympathy as interacting in human behaviour. Studies have shown that people will often only give sympathy if they have some control over the situation. Conversely, control often elicits sympathy. The Taoist ink artist is aware of this complex interplay and its impacts on human cognition.
The term Tao means pathway which in turn is predicated on a system of very precise values. The Tao becomes manifest during periods of quietness and contemplation. The focus must always be on the thought of oneness with nature. In the philosophy of the Tao the human emotions are not permitted to override peace and harmony. To this end, Taoism steps back from action and emotion. This non-action should not imply a lack of compassion; on the contrary, it simply intervenes in the dualities to undermine any confusion by noting how one action precipitates that of another, just as each brush stroke creates a whole picture. By stepping back actions can be carefully considered and kept in balance, ink art puts this notion into daily practice.
Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the tenets of the School of Yin- Yang, which existed during the time of the Warring States (the Warring States refers to the seven leading states existent during the Zhou dynasty also known as the Autumn and Spring Period and/or the Hundred Schools of Thought). The Taoist teachings are attributed to Lao Tzu together with the writings of Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). Two main texts have contributed to the Chinese philosophical foundations of Taoism each deriving from the 8 Hexagrams of Fu Xi in 2700s BCE (Fig.37).
The School of Naturalists or the School of Yin-yang synthesized the concepts of yin-yang into the Five Elements. Zou Yan is considered the founder of this school and of its supporting text, the I Ching: Daodejing (Tao Te Ching), a divination script used in Taoist temples. Lao Tzu is traditionally regarded as the author of the Daodejing, albeit the identity of its author(s) has been debated throughout history.
The Lao Tzu Legacy.
Lao Tzu used a variety of tools to explain his ideas, these included paradox, analogy, proverbs, poetry and prose. Within Lao Tzu’s philosophy there is a consistent hierarchy present in the mind of the individual, more animalistic than structured or scientific. Taoism interested the psychoanalyst Carl Jung who in turn was influenced by the experiences of Richard Wilhelm, the sinologist and key English translator of the Daodejing, whose work became well known in the early 20th century.
The School of Yin-yang was most strongly associated with the states of Yang and ‘Qi’ (energies).‘Qi’ energy is generally regarded as the life force and this is most prominently associated with Chinese medicine. ‘Qi’ is also related to all other energies such as aspects of light, movement, heat, nerve impulses, thought, and emotion.
Life in Chinese medicine is a gathering of ‘Qi’ energy and a healthy human being is a dynamic and harmonious mixture of all forms of ‘Qi’. The ‘Qi’ is in a state of continuous flux, transforming endlessly from one aspect of ‘Qi’ into another. ‘Qi’ is neither created nor is it ever destroyed; it simply shifts and changes in relation to the environment in which it exists. ‘Qi’ energy always seeks to be in balance. Its concepts are embedded in the philosophy of Yin and Yang, which are the terms used to describe complementary qualities otherwise known as different manifestations of ‘Qi’. For example, if Yin is form, then Yang is function. If Yin is material, then Yang is immaterial. These same principles apply in divination, Chinese calligraphy and in traditional ink art.
The Yellow Court Scripture.
The Yellow Court Scripture is an early Taoist classic, the author of which still remains unknown. It has two volumes, the Yellow Court Inner View Jade Scripture and the Yellow Court Outer View Jade Scripture. The Inner View Scripture was handed down by Lady Wei Huacun. Lady Wei, was a Taoist who lived during the Jin Dynasty (265-420 CE). She also handed down the Shang Qing Scripture, and is recognized as the master of the Shang Qing Sect of Taoism. Scripts were written on a small 12-sided cylinder dating back to 308 BC.
To circulate Qi;
Deepen then store,
Store then extend;
Extend then descend,
Descend then settle;
Settle then stable,
Stable then sprout;
Sprout then grow,
Grow then retreat;
Retreat then (return to) the Heavens.
The secret of the Heavens is above.
The secret of Earth is below.
Figure 38: Wiki Commons.
The philosopher and poet Lao-Tzu (Fig. 39) was born in the 6th -5th Century when China was experiencing extreme turmoil. He was best known by historians as an anti-authoritarian.
According to the traditional accounts Lao Tzu was a scholar who worked as Keeper of the Archives at the Yellow Emperor’s Court. This reportedly allowed him access to the many classics. Some stories suggest that Lao Tzu never opened a formal school, but nonetheless attracted a large number of students and followers. The story of Lao Tzu took on strong religious overtones after the Han dynasty worshipped him like a god, this had his text marked as a divine gift of the gods. The divine status resulted in the formation of a doctrine called the Way of the Celestial Master the first organized religious Taoist sect to introduce the practice called Wu Wei or ‘non-action’ (Fig.40).
Later Lao Tzu came to be seen as a personification of the Tao itself, not a person or god, but a kind of ephemeral spirit of nature, the view has remained to this day.
China had been plagued with political skirmishes and Lao Tzu encouraged a return to ‘nature’, rather than responding with action. He also argued against technological change believing it would bring about a false sense of progress. Lao Tzu did not reject technology altogether, but instead advocated a state of calm contemplation (wu wei) free from personal interests. In Chinese art Wu wei is the creation of the state of calmness though a nothingness or space. It is the recocognition that all sates of being have their Other in ‘non-being’ or not ‘being in’.
Space holds everything together. Just as cosmic space is said to hold the planets in suspended animation, so too does the inner space of the artist give the ink picture substance and meaning. Similarly, contemplation (space over thoughts) is said to provide meaning, clarity, mindfulness and ethical values. What is seen and unseen is explained by the universe and in today’s translation expressed in a complex and modern astrophysics. Hitherto, space is a kind of invisible force that determines form in life and in art.
Taoism does not separate space and form, but rather it recognizes the inter-relationship. Space and matter are intrinsically bound up with the ethics of living a good life by improving one’s character. In order to develop character one needs space for contemplation and peace, one needs art.
Importantly, according to Taoism, ‘goodness’ cannot be forced; it comes spontaneously emerging from the vortex allowed for contemplation and change. Simplicity and humility are the key virtues inherent in the Taoist Way. Taoism teaches that changing the world only happens through individual personal acts of kindness and understanding; this means avoiding such circumstances as war, harsh laws and unwarranted judgements as well as helping the poor and less fortunate. From this experiential knowledge the Taoist adept serves as a pathway between the circumstances of worldly hostility and personal balance which must also equate with individual survival. Taoism is the penultimate form of diplomacy.
Some Taoists, past and present, see a connection between Wu Wei and many mystical practices, but not all meditation and contemplation is by definition mystical. Sometimes meditation and contemplation can simply be an appreciation of all that is good and productive.
The philosophical Tao engenders a distinctive ambivalence in advocacy which can also be seen in many of the Chinese ink drawings. This is especially true of the landscapes and the way nature is often represented by a single unit; such as a flower or a bird. The singularity stands in contrast to any potential conflict; space then becomes the mediator by way of its transcendence. The most intrinsic value inherent in Taoism is that it is indirect and non-argumentative, avoidance is viewed as positive and this explains the scarcity of detail in traditional ink art.
Taoism uses poetry and parable as a means of expression in much the same way as the romantic Western texts have used allegory to impart idealism and values. As a European literary device idealism was used to promote contentment and calm in times of social upheaval. The works of most traditional Chinese ink artists are said to contain aesthetic idealism, albeit not overtly orchestrated or politically engineered.
The modern academic and sinologist Chad Hansen suggests that in ancient China the political implication of Taoism was mainly its opposition to artificial structures and authority. In this sense Taoism is often viewed as anarchist. Taoists traditionally avoided government, coercion, and often normal socialization because they were thought to be based on false beliefs and competitiveness. Hence, Taoism in Europe was used to intervene in the bourgeoisie notions of majority rule, a trait that has made it popular amidst many revolutionary movements such as Ghandi’s non-violent resistance against British rule, as well as the more contemporary peace movement. Taoism has even found its way into the recent Transition Towns Movement which focuses on sustainability. The ‘Tao’ which takes precedence over everything is a form of philosophy that treats nature as the normative authority. The Tao also embraces many elements of conservatism, which makes it attractive to a myriad of religious cohorts. In this respect, Taoism is not always easy to understand especially for those who believe in freedom of speech, social equality and unhindered mobility. The true Taoist would prefer silence and solitude to debate or openly advocating change. Indeed, the Taoist trend to use silence is viewed as the reluctance to limit life with the use of language, because language is viewed as subverting the greater experience. In the Taoist philosophy the real ‘life’ and the real ‘self’ do not exist in the external world. Rather, they are founded upon inner reflection which is always already at odds with the material world and must make its own peace. The philosophical quiet is also a motivational and intentional quiet which involves both stoicism and fatalism. To this end, Taoism has served to enhance the philosophies of many Western teachers from Plato to the existentialist Jean Paul Sartre who believed that the best way to freedom was through mindfulness and self-control.
There is a common sense approach to this dictate; namely it takes two to make a quarrel. For the Taoist the withdrawal from skirmishes is often a pathway to victory not a defeat. Hitherto, the Taoist artist withdraws into the world of ink, poetry and contemplation as a form of renewal.
The Tortoise carries the secrets of the sacred mysteries.
Though there is sound in metal and stone unless they are struck they will not ring. In ChuangTzu, Chapter 12.
THERE WAS ONCE A TIME WHEN LIFE WAS CENTRED ON CARING FOR NATURE AND THE LAND. Ideas in China changed over time and the development of the Yin-Yang practices were absorbed into the more esoteric and mystical trends of Taoism, Feng Sui and all other aspects of Chinese lifestyle such as art, medicine and philosophy, which in turn upheld as a strict social order. Each required a very strong emphasis on mental awareness, as well as care, kindness and compassion. Moderation and humility were the norm.
The Zhou dynasty followed the Shang dynasty and the many nature gods dominated the belief system. These gods were not figurative they were simply a power called Tian (Heaven) and Di (Earth) and they had their own spirit and unique personalities.
The order needed an applied discipline and this became mapped out in a system called Feng Shui. Feng Shui is the Chinese discipline of harmonizing all life forms with the environment. The term Feng Shui literally translates into wind and water, two constantly moving elements that have dominated life over the course of planetary existence. The teaching of Feng Shui forms the basis for a Chinese metaphysics which is divided into five main subjects of study called Wu Shu or the Five Arts (Fig.41).
(Fig.41).Wu Shu or the Five Arts
Feng Shui is the process that underscores all traditional divination and nature worship. In Chinese art and especially in landscape each position is represented by a Feng Shui animal (Fig. 42).
(Fig. 42).Feng Shui animal chart.
Accordingly, the Five Animal Attributes dominate landscapes, homes and space. In Feng Shui homes people, places, linguistic or pictorial representations are all guarded by five animal spirits. Each of these animals have their own meaning. For example, the Black Tortoise rules the waters.
The Black Tortoise sits on the side of the landscape deemed the highest or which is near mountains or hills; it represents long life, endurance, security, patience and support. The Red Phoenix rules fire and this should be the lowest position on the landscape, it represents beauty, inspiration, virtue, duty, capacity for vision and opportunity. The Green Dragon rules wood and it should be in a high position and next to the Black Tortoise as it represents good luck, sound nature, benevolence, abundance, prosperity, strength and wisdom. The White Tiger rules metals so it should be in the high position and next to the Green Dragon as it represents male and yang energy in its purest form, its physical strength is essential for survival, protection from attack and defense. The Snake rules the earth’s centre and it is the point around which all four seasons rotate. The Snake is coiled in the centre of the landscape and protected by the four outer creatures, it represents the archaic memory and/or the stored information gathered over time and needed to move forward.
THE FIVE PRINCIPLES:- MOUNTAIN — MEDICINE — DESTINY — DIVINATION — APPEARANCE. © China Today.
1. The Mountain (Shan) represents the philosophical teachings on humans and nature and includes diet, health, martial arts, meditation and self-healing, Qi Gong and Tai Chi Chuan.
2. Medicine (Yi) relates to healing. It includes all forms of traditional Chinese medicine, including herbal remedies and acupuncture.
The five arts have been a fundamental guide to living for the Chinese people throughout the ages. Feng Shui is classified under the physiognomy of the living environment and it is an important component in Chinese art. Physiognomy refers to observation of appearances using formulas and calculations that assess and enhance the potential of a person within their chosen setting. Feng Shui is called metaphysical science where one learns to recognize and tap into the ‘Qi’ (cosmic energies) of nature. The study and presence of ‘Qi’ energy is today recognized by Western medical doctors and practices such as acupuncture and acupressure are growing in popularity. What makes Feng Shui different from its Western counterparts is that it is also a form of prophesy. The nature of ‘Qi’ is believed to be cyclical and as such it can be calculated. Both Chinese Feng Shui and Chinese Astrology are viewed as symbolic pathways of human, animal and plant life, which in turn connect to the cosmos.
The Connections: Taoism and Feng Shui.
The practice of Taoism and Feng Shui share the same root as both disciplines evolve from the ancient Zhou understanding of cosmic inter-connectedness. Hence, the wisdom of Tao’s Feng Shui is that of listening to the voice of nature and knowing that humans can only thrive when they are aligned and in harmony with the rhythms of nature and the Universe. Taoism offers a way of transcending the incongruities to experience life as effortless. Taoists recognize their limits and live with acceptance. There are two main principles of the Tao that are important to Feng Shui, the Wu Wei principle of action through non-action and the yin-yang principle, or the study of the opposing Universal forces.
Bagua (Eight Trigrams)
Two diagrams known as bagua (or pa kua) loom large in Feng Shui, and both predate their mentions in the I Ching. The Lo (River) Chart (Luoshu) was developed first and it is sometimes associated with a later arrangement of Heaven in the bagua (Fig 48).
The Luoshu and the River Chart (Hetu) is sometimes associated with the earlier Heaven bagua.
The Heaven bagua are linked to astronomical events of the sixth millennium BCE and with the Turtle Calendar from the time of Yao. The Turtle Calendar of Yao (found in the Yaodian section of the Shangshu or Book of Documents) dates to 2300 BCE, plus or minus 250 years (Fig. 49).
Turtles are frequently depicted in popular culture as slow, patient and wise creatures because they have a long lifespan, sturdiness, and an ancient appearance. In many cultures the turtles are an emblem of longevity. They have also been a source of food for many tribal societies. Turtles are regularly incorporated into the arts and creation mythologies.
Taoism in the Art
of Geraldine Wogan-Browne 1926-2012.
The Dragon according to Chinese mythology is the giver of life and great works.
All the myriad things are as they are.
Ch’u-ch’ueh-tzu in question to Ch’ang-wu-tzu.
Art and Calligraphy.
CHINESE ART APPEARED BEFORE CHINESE WRITING, but what they have in common is a unique form of pictographic script that consists of only a few dozen letters which over time has developed into a written language with thousands of completed characters that represent morphemes and words. For example, a drawing of the ridge of a mountain is referred to as the dragon’s vein because it resembles the spine of the dragon and acts as a metaphor for the primordial creator.
The hybrid life forms that were replicated first in pre-historic animist artworks on cave walls were also some of the earliest examples of writing and language (Fig 50).
According to sinologist David N. Keightley (1989) pictograms have a strong resemblance to many of the earliest Chinese characters and their meanings. At some point pictograms and symbols merged whereby the latter evolved to represent words describing objects. There is no knowledge of exactly when or how this happened (Fig 51).
Fig 51: ©David N. Keightley 1989. The Origins of Writing in China: ©Figure 52: ©David N. Keightley 1989. Rabbit in the burrow.
Prior to ritual divination old bones were ground and consumed by humans as medicine. Of necessity medicine predates language, but there was also a distinct merging of medicine, symbols, language and the arts that begins in the cave and then extends outwards across time and location. Only recently have scientists been able to gain modern translations from the archaic images. The rough translation of the text in (Figure 52) reads ‘on day hsin mao (rabbit in the burrow) it is divined on this day hsin (Rabbit in the Zodiac) that it will rain or not rain’.
Figure 52: © Wiki Commons Shang Dynasty Writing.
In early writing two words are given for each sign The first word is the original meaning of the sign, presumably because it represents the object it is supposed to describe. The ‘second word is represented by the sign because its pronunciation is the same or similar to the first word.’ Notably, picture and sound are put together as one combination of line-light and vibration. The unification in ink art is also a combing of line, light and vibration, one needing the others for balance, harmony and deliberation. This follows the Taoist tradition of everything being dependent on what goes before and what comes after, a symbolism that is also reflected in nature and especially in the landscape.
Animals and plants that began as pictographs and which formed the basis of the Chinese language; symbolism and healing have remained a primary source of messaging for the Chinese. Not only is the Chinese idiom a fully functional method of communication it has served the people of China and its regions for millions of years and continues to do so.
The Burden of Proof.
In modern society where everything has to be proven to be believed, computer modelling reveals the intricate colours, patterns and vibrations that come from sound. The person with synaesthesia sees words in colours and vibrations, but not everyone has access to this spectrum. There are clearly different dimensions of knowledge and human experience. Before language there were discernible sounds used for communications that could be translated into art. In the eighteenth-century, the German scientist and musician Ernst Chladni, known as the father of acoustics, demonstrated in simple visual experiments that sound affects matter. When he drew a violin bow around the edge of a plate covered with fine sand, the sand formed various geometric patterns. Many of these shapes and patters are replicated on the walls of caves possibly by ancient shamans and their followers.
In the work of Geraldine Wogan-Browne the shapes and sounds are represented by shafts of bamboo, the fruit of a strawberry plant, the leaf of the eucalyptus, the daffodil, the bottle brush, the mountain and waterfall, the koi fish and more. Each entity invokes a message or sound from an ancient Chinese wisdom. What makes Geraldine-Wogan-Browne’s work unique is that it sits at the cutting edge of exploration into these neuro-spatial relations and a debate that implicates art in the evolution of language as well as in new discoveries pertaining to brain plasticity.
The Taoist Isolation.
China is a huge continent of people who have been spreading their influence over the regions. However, China developed in relative isolation to the rest of the world. The geographical barriers of desert and mountains were a great obstacle to close encounters with the West, whereby the distance allowed the Han identity and language to be developed unhindered. In this respect, the Chinese never needed theology, the idea was quite alien to them. Further, the messages in Chinese would transcend precise language structures and this has had many advantages because anyone might bring to a design a valid interpretation regardless of their mother tongue. It is a situation that strongly reflects the universal nature of the Tao and its egalitarianism is what inspires the continuation of the ancient ink art traditions.
Drawings by Geralding Wogan-Browne.
Ink drawing and painting is known in Mandarin Chinese as guóhuà 國畫. Fine art works are executed on rice paper, sometimes on pieces of silk and they are often cut into thick scrolls. Xie He (also known as Hsieh Ho) was a well-known historical Chinese art critic in the 6th century who created a standard list of six principles that might be used when interpreting or reading ink drawings and paintings. Taken from the preface to his book the Record of the Classification of Old Painters (古畫品錄) written circa 550 six elements define a traditional painting, they are as follows:
1. Spirit Resonance, or vitality, and seems to translate to the nervous energy transmitted from the artist into the work. The overall energy of a work of art. Xie He said that ‘without Spirit Resonance, there was no need to look further’.
2. Bone Method, or the way of using the brush. This refers not only to texture and brush stroke, but to the close link between handwriting and personality. The art of calligraphy was inseparable from painting.
3. Correspondence to the Object or the depicting of form, which would include shape and line.
4. Suitability to Type, or the application of colour, including layers, value and tone.
5. Division and Planning, or placing and arrangement, corresponding to composition, space and depth.
6. Transmission by Copying, or the copying of models, not only from life, but also the works of antiquity.
Common symbols found in Chinese ink paintings and what each typically represent are as follows:
1. Goose: Strong relationships and reliability.
2. Lions: Guardians and protectors.
3. Butterfly: Symbol of love and purity.
4. Dragon: Happiness and good luck.
5. Eight horses: The rule of kingdoms and armies.
6. Wheel: The cycle of life.
7. Mountains and hills: Closeness to gods, goddesses and the Immortals.
8. Bamboo: Life and eternity.
The hardest thing to grasp about Chinese ink drawings is the techniques used in the brushwork. A successful brush and ink artist is carrying out a ritual that involves deep concentration and meditation which in turn requires holding the traditional Chinese brush in the appropriate way and practicing strokes over and over again. This happens in much the same way as other forms of meditation such as Yoga, where there are correct positions for sitting or standing, breathing and movement; states which induce a sense of peace and harmony.
Reading a Chinese painting appropriately is said to include the search for a variety of strokes; those that are short and thick, long and thin, or that change thickness in the middle. Various tensions and hand movements are used for individual strokes and these are reflected in the end product. The use of calligraphy also demonstrates the artist’s level of skill and devotion to meditation. The symbolism in Chinese art is very important. Symbols are consistent signifiers for the deeper meanings in Chinese philosophy and picture topics. For example, while a simple painting of a bird or flower might appear self-explanatory, it may also contain a myriad of symbolic interpretations. Many paintings are actually representative of something other than what they appear to depict in the work.
Geraldine Wogan-Browne learned her traditional art in the Philippines amidst a rich and colourful culture. The Filipino identity was developed with Malay, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and American influences, but there are also strong indigenous roots. In 2010, a metatarsal (foot bone) from ‘Callao Man’ was discovered in the Philippines, it was marked as being 67,000 years old’. This find revealed may new details about the way pre-historic societies lived and created art. Indeed, one of the most important revelations was the social sophistication of networking within pre-historic societies. Humans developed not just through language, but through mutual cooperation and the structure and operations of these social arrangements were told in vivid details through the practices of oral story-telling and pictographs. Further, in the traditional ink arts the networks have changed little over time and the artist can still maintain the connections.
Almost all of the world’s mythologies begin with the story of creation. The Chinese version sees humans emerging from a stem of bamboo. In Chinese Filipino art the rod of the bamboo plant features prominently. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth depending on the species. Bamboo is also very versatile, it can be eaten, used as medicine, building materials or weapons and it has spiritual significance. Several Asian cultures have imagined humanity emerging from the stem of a bamboo bush. In the Philippines mystics tell of the first man, Malakas (strong) and the first woman Maganda (beautiful); each having emerged from one half of a split bamboo. The first creation took place on an island formed after the stirring of the waters and a battle between the Sky and the Ocean. In Malaysia another story conveys the tale of a man who dreams of a beautiful woman while sleeping under a bamboo plant, when he awakes and breaks the bamboo stem he finds a beautiful female inside.
Many practical reasons surround the painting of bamboo. Just as the European ancestors left drawings on cave walls as life manuals for their successors so too did Asians preserve their memories with bamboo. Bamboo rods and stems used for survival were depicted on objects and in scripts on paper and silk. The artwork is history as well as a menu for a productive life. Rods of bamboo aided the processes of fishing and carrying objects, they were used as staffs in the martial arts and in meditation for balance. The rod was said to perfect harmony since it was the instrument first used to stir the cosmic waters. In some myths bamboo also represents the phallus, as in the indigenous god Lakambakod, the patriarchal protector of the crops and healer of diseases.
Bamboo and the Crow: A Filipino Myth.
When the world first began there was no land, only sea and sky; and between them was a large bird, a crow. The crow would constantly circle the earth, but it had nowhere suitable to land. Eventually, it grew tired of flying around, so it drew up the sea until the water reached the sky. The sky pushed the sea back again causing it to rain on the islands left behind. Soon the sea could no long rise up and instead it created the tides. Then the sky ordered the crow to land on one of the islands and make peace with the sea, the wind and the tides.
The wind and the sea were later married and they had a child which was a shoot of bamboo emerging from the ground. One day the bamboo was floating beside the seashore when it struck the feet of the crow. The crow pecked at the bamboo until it split into two pieces and became male and female. From one piece of female bamboo there came many children from all the different races. Over time the father grew tired of so many children and beat them until they fled to the four quarters of the world.
The rod, crook or wand is sacred in shamanism and many other belief systems; it was traditionally the element of connection between humans and the gods. It was said that at the start of time there was only water and from the heavens a Lama came down to the water holding an iron rod from which he began to stir the seas. The stirring brought about a wind and fire which caused a vortex at the centre of the waters from which the earth appeared. Another version of the creation story from Central Java attributes the creation of sky and earth to a lama called Udan. The lama Udan began by separating earth from the sky, and then divided the earth into nine stories with nine rivers. After the creation of the earth itself, the first male and female couple were created out of clay. They would become the progenitors of humanity. Various clay models of these creatures became talismans for good fortune. Plants and minerals were the main source of talismans. When someone died violently brass or copper coins were strung on an iron rod in the shape of a sword and hung in rooms or at the head of the bed to keep away the demons.
The Yao Grasses are featured in the Classic of Mountains and Seas or Shan Hai Jing, formerly called as the Shan-hai Ching. The compilation of Chinese mythic geography and mythic narrative is the ultimate fantasy with nature. Yao Grass is a type of mythical plant of which there were two types. One type is that from the sacred Guyao Mountain which was used as a type of love potion. It has been described as having lush leaves, yellow flowers and fruit. Chinese mythology also has the Yao grass as the potion of transformation, in particular that of Yan Di’s daughter Yao Ji who passed away after consuming an aphrodisiac. Another type of Yao Grass grew at Tai Mountain and was said to produce an enhanced mental clarity.
Grasses in Shamanism.
It is not uncommon to find two types of plant corresponding to two human functions which in turn resemble the mind and body split. There is also the notion that love requires balance and clarity of the mental faculties. Balance was often found by walking amidst bamboo (grasses).
The grasses are the home of the grasshopper which signifies longevity, happiness and wisdom. Grasses are common and because they appear in abundance in shamanism and they are deemed a messenger of the spirits. Grasses also signify transmutation as one cannot alter a patch of grass without affecting the whole.
The qilin 麒麟.
© D. Woloschin
The qilin 麒麟; is a mythical hoofed animal with a ghostlike nature well known in Chinese and other East Asian cultures. It is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler. In the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) the qilin was represented as an oxen-hoofed animal with a dragon-like head and a pair of horns emerging in flame-like ornaments. In the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1911) the qilin animal was regarded a figment of the imagination, but it was very well represented in the arts. Later depictions of the qilin show a creature with the head of a dragon, the antlers of a deer, the skin and scales of a fish, the hooves of an ox and tail of a lion. In actuality it may have been a giraffe feeding on local grasses.
The Giraffe in Shamanism.
The Giraffe has a view of life from a very unique perspective, its feet are firmly on the ground, but its vision soars across the panorama, from this position the giraffe understands both worlds; above and below. The giraffe has a heart that is large and positioned above most creatures. The Giraffe is therefore said to be able to share compassion where it is lacking. Hence, in myth the giraffe speaks to the notion of loving relationships.
© Bohemian Gallery.
The Story of Bathala
In the beginning of time there were three universal gods who suffered from acute loneliness. The names of the gods were Bathala, caretaker of the earth, Ulilang Kaluluwa (Orphaned Spirit), a sky serpent and Galang Kaluluwa (Wandering spirit), the winged god of travel. The gods were unknown to each other and each wanted to create mortals to extend their kingdom. Ulilang Kaluluwa and Bathala met with a view to cooperation, but Ulilang Kaluluwa was not pleased at having competition for his kingdom so he challenged Bathala to a fight to decide who would be the best ruler. After three days and three nights Ulilang Kaluluwa was slain by Bathala who, instead of giving Ulilang Kaluluwa a proper burial, burned the snake’s remains. A few years later the third god Galang Kaluluwa entered the kingdom. Bathala welcomed the winged god with much kindness and invited him to live in his kingdom. They became true friends and were very happy for many years. Galang Kaluluwa then became very sick, but before he died he asked Bathala to bury him on the spot where Ulilang Kaluluwa’s body was burned. Bathala did exactly as he was asked. Out of the grave of the two dead gods grew a tall tree with a big round nut, which is called the coconut tree. The nut reminded Bathala of Galang Kaluluwa’s head. Bathala used the inspiration to create the creatures he wanted with him on earth. He gave birth to the trees and plants, then to the animals, and finally to the first man and woman.
Creation in Universal Shamanism.
The gods of the Filipino sun and moon are told in the story of Ulilang Kaluluwa Galang Kaluluwa and they are replicated in the Greek Apollo and Artemis. Another popular Filipino version of this story is the legend of Mariang Makiling, a fairy who lives on Mount Makiling. Mariang Makiling likes to appear after a storm. She strolls around the woods to straighten broken trunks, replace nests in the branches of trees, mends the wings of butterflies, and clears the streams of fallen twigs and logs. As she walks around, all signs of the storm disappear; roses and orchids bloom, birds chirp and deer run around once again. These are the images of hope that keep the spirits on an even pathway. There are similar Visayan versions of these stories and there are Christian saints who over-see care of the environment and its animal inhabitants.
The Aswang is one the most infamous Asian mythological creatures which may have morphed into the duck or other creature over time. The Aswang has a long beak and is regarded as a ghoul or vampire; a consumer of the dead. The European equivalent is the werewolf. There is also Agta a black tree spirit and Dila (The Tongue) a spirit that passes through the bamboo flooring of provincial houses, then licks certain humans to death.
The Duck in Shamanism.
All birds were revered for their ability to fly; birds were a metaphor of altered consciousness. The duck was originally a menacing creature then it came to symbolize happiness and fidelity. Mandarin ducks couple for life. The duck is said to join the sea and the sky and is therefore thought to be a symbol of resourcefulness; the duck has the ability to walk, swim, fly and hide under the water. In Native American mythology, the duck is another symbol which joins the sea and the sky because it can swim and fly.
The Chinese Fenghuang is a mythological bird closely resembling the duck. It was said to live at the top the Kunlun Mountains. In the West the Fenghuang is commonly referred to as the phoenix, although mythological similarities between the two birds are rather limited. The bird’s feathers contain all the five fundamental colours of Feng Shui: black, white, red, blue and yellow. The Fenghuang’s body represents the six celestial spirit bodies. The head is the sky, the eyes are the sun, the back is the moon, the wings are the wind, the feet are the earth, and the tail the planets. A common depiction of the Fenghuang portrays it attacking snakes with its talons. The Fenghuang features on many emblems and designs and dates back to the Han dynasty. The Fenghuang also symbolizes the union of yin and yang and images of an ancient bird have appeared in China for over 4,000 years.
The Phoenix in Shamanism.
The Phoenix is a mythical bird that consciously consumes itself in flames to be reborn new from its ashes. The origins of the Phoenix appear to be in
Egyptian mythology. The Phoenix is seen as a mythical bird that lived in the Arabian Desert. When it saw death drawing near, it would make a nest of sweet-smelling wood and resins. It would then expose itself and its nest to the full force of the sun’s rays until it burnt itself and the nest to ashes in the flames only to rise rejuvenated from the ashes.
The Phoenix is considered the crucial element in creativity and it best describes the transformation of the ego that takes place in all creative practices. The Phoenix is the symbol for the transformation of human consciousness and it is often linked with ritual and meditation.
Birds features prodominently in Chinese culture as a symbol of freedom. The songs of the birds convey a sense of happiness, love and strong commitment. In Feng Shui birds are powerful indicators of good luck and new opportunities. Birds are said to remind humans that in times of adversity there is always good lurking in the background. Birds are a powerful symbol of moving forward. In addition, birds remind humans of their pre-historic origins and the flight of the primal unconscious that constantly seeks its revival in the day to day business of humans, especially in a crisis.
Birds in Taoist Shamanism.
Bird depictions in ink art reveal the elements of raw nature brought together in harmonious union. The bird makes for a good practice or ritual drawing because of its versatility. There are also important moral lessons to be conveyed in the bird as a topic in Chinese ink art. The bird signifies the Taoist philosophy that puts the emphasis on elevation of the spirit and its journey not its destination. The bird’s song is also joyful and conducive to health and mediation.
The White Mule.
The white mule signifies fertility and the elixir of everlasting life. The Hermit Chang-Kuo-Lao rode a white mule across China offering fertility to young couples. Chang-Kuo-Lao is the second of the Eight Immortals in the Taoist pantheon. Chang-Kuo-Lao’s existence is said to have begun around the middle or end of the 7th century. Chang-Kuo-Lao was an alchemist (fangshi) who lived on Zhongtiao Mountain in Hengzhou at the time of the Tang dynasty. He claimed to be several hundred years old and was believed to know all the secrets of nature.
© The Wogan-Browne Family.
The white mule was a symbol of Chang-Kuo-Lao’s magical powers, which included being able to collapse the mule into a package that would fit into his pocket. He could then revive it by pouring water into the animal’s mouth. Chang-Kuo-Lao was continually invited to Court, but when he finally accepted an invitation from the Empress Wu he collapsed at the gate and died. Some versions of the story hold that Chang-Kuo-Lao could rise from the dead and this was his way of confirming the Taoist belief in everlasting life. In his many resurrections Chang-Kuo-Lao would sometimes rise as a white bat. White was the colour of death for the Chinese and the bat was a creature of the underworld. The rising bat is reminiscent of the pre-historic shamanic journey and the elevation of the human psyche to an altered level of consciousness, a state that was likely constant in pre-historic times. The rise also signifies the growth of nature, as in the trees that reach up into the skies to greet the gods and the Immortals.
The Donkey in Shamanism.
The Donkey has long been misunderstood. First domesticated roughly 4,500 years ago the donkey was looked upon as a status symbol. The donkey is a strong worker with a gentle nature, intelligent and sometimes stubborn. The donkey can live for 40 years plus. The donkey evolved in the harsh desert environment and learned how to survive by being sure footed and proceeding with caution. The donkey developed devious and cunning skills and could escape from many difficult situations, generally by freezing motionless rather than running to get away. In Ancient Egypt Seth, the great enemy of Osiris, was portrayed with the head of a donkey. The donkey is often portrayed as the Devil otherwise Satan and it is linked with the alchemic practices.
In the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, the first biographical Roman novel to survive, (St. Augustine refers to it in The City of God as The Golden Ass), the protagonist Lucius is said to have had an insatiable desire for magic. While trying to perform a spell to transform into a bird he is accidentally transformed into a donkey. This leads to a long journey, real and imagined, filled with adventures and moral deliberations. Lucius finally finds salvation through the intervention of the goddess Isis and decides to join her cult.
The Christian Bible has a talking donkey. The story of Balaam and his talking donkey can be found in Numbers 22… The Bible fails tell the reader why the donkey could talk, but the donkey did have other significant roles to play, such as in carrying important people to their destination, people like Mary and Joseph and later their son Jesus Christ.
Waters and Bridges: The Tree of Life.
Bridges are replicas for the Tree of Life. Rivers, falls and streams of water symbolize a cleansing and they are usually encountered on walks to the tops of hills and mountains which are over-seen by many gods, goddesses and other mythological creatures.
Shamanism and the Healing Pathways.
© Wogan-Browne Family.
Healing has been practiced as long as humans have existed in one form or another. In shamanism healing is considered to be a change of state resulting in improved harmony and a relief from suffering, whether it be spiritual, mental, emotional or physical in nature. In indigenous cultures the focus of a shaman is on healing at the causal level, a holistic approach that addresses all areas of a person’s life is used, this includes the family, environment and community. A shaman is generally a healer. However, few healers are shamans. A shaman is a hunter, one who seeks out the cause of an imbalance and shifts troublesome energy into good energy by functioning as a conduit between the worlds. A shaman is the wise person who can facilitate creative openings for someone to experience healing, but the individual must be willing to embrace the lessons and heal themselves. There is no hierarchy in the method of healing. In all things humans have free will, which includes whether or not humans will heal, and the degree to which healing will manifest. In modern times medicine targets as specific problem it does not view the problem from the perspective of the whole person.
The Gonggong: The Shamanic Dragon Rising.
The Dragon Rising is the translation of a Chinese term which corresponds to Kundalini rising, often portrayed as a snake, it is the spirit of creativity in all its forms. Dragon and snake both mean the uprising of an energy form through the human energy body which generally means that a person has become enlightened or wise.
The basic shape and form of an enlightened energy system contained in a living human being has been described in different metaphorical terms and it appears in every culture. Sometimes it is the crane or stork, protecting souls and bringing life to couples, sometimes it is a swan or snake or a tree or an angel. The symbolism keeps people in awe of the more powerful universal forces. It keeps the mind grounded and focused on necessary tasks.
The Sea Monster.
The Gonggong also known as Kanghui, is a Chinese sea monster, much like the dragon and is depicted as having red hair and a tail. Scotland has its equivalent in the Loch Ness Monster.
Gonggong is often seen as destructive and he is blamed for various cosmic catastrophes including the great deluge. Gonggong is said to have suffered a great shaming because he lost the struggle with Zhu Rong the god of fire, a struggle which may speak to the nature of pre-historic inter-tribal conflicts. In his rage Gonggong hit his head against a pillar holding up the sky, thus causing damage to it and creating the great water catastrophe. The goddess Nüwa cut off the legs of a giant and used them in place of the fallen pillar, ending the floods, this caused the earth to tilt. The tilt of the earth could not be corrected and it changed the position of the sun, the moon, the stars and destiny. Gonggong ended up being killed or sent into exile, and after losing another struggle with a major deity he was said to be transformed into some other kind of creature.
In Chinese mythology it is believed that all things are capable of becoming human, thus having magical powers and immortality. There is a bridge between all living things in the universe which serves to signify the fickle aspects of life and especially the strange nature of the unconscious mind that governs the human emotions. It is very likely that myths surrounding the existence of Gonggong coincided with, or described a cataclysmic event; but they also described fate and the human tragedy.
Water is an important element in Feng Shui as it brings good fortune, abundance and good energy. Water is an element of wisdom and there are many stories of people crossing the oceans to find hidden knowledge and wisdom. Water is said to represent the emotions which have to be overcome in order to secure peace, harmony and unification between the body and spirit. One such unification myth comes from Confucian story of a young son Chou who takes a journey to find the bones of his long deceased father so he can bring them home for a proper burial. The story resembles many such encounters between youth and the wilderness (chaos) often referred to as the journey of initiation. After overcoming many obstacles Chou finally finds the bones and returns with them to his mother’s house. Later he is rewarded by the Emperor for uniting his family. The story supports the Confucian belief that familial relations are the mainstay of a civil society and selfless loyalty to the family should always be rewarded.
The bridge appears in many myths and often serves as the escape route from evil monsters especially for the Immortals. The bridge was also the connection between the skies and earth, sometimes viewed as a human, tree or a ladder. The boat is also a symbol of connection and sometimes appears in art as a replacement for the bridge.
Dragons, boats and bridges are all synonymous with the human capacity to overcome obstacles and bring good luck to high achievers. The Dragon features prominently in Chinese festivals in particular the Chinese New Year.
Since water symbolizes the stirring of the cosmic seas to create life the boat has always had a particular place of importance in Chinese myth. The Eight Immortals crossed the seas in a boat. The boat has often been depicted as the dragon and even today Chinese junks will display a dragon’s head on the bow of a vessel. In Chinese myth the Sun is seen riding on the back of a dragon or crossing the seas in a boat. The fire and water combination are complimentary elements requiring balance. Too much sun burns while too much water causes a deluge. Too little of either and life cannot be adequately sustained.
In Chinese cosmology there were originally ten suns in the sky, all said to be brothers. The suns were supposed to emerge one at a time as commanded by the Jade Emperor, but they were very immature and loved to fool around. As a part of their play they decided to go into the sky together and this made the world too hot for anything to grow. A hero named Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns with a bow and arrow to save the people below from drought. He is still honoured to this very day for bringing rain to the farmlands.
In another Chinese myth the eclipse of the Sun is caused by the magical dog of heaven biting off a piece of the sun which is said to have happened around 2,160 BCE. The Deity of the Sun in Chinese mythology is Ri Gong Tai Yang Xing Jun (Tai Yang Gong /Grandfather Sun) or Lord of the Sun. The sun and the moon represent the Yin (male, black in the disc)and Yang (female, white in the disc).
At the time of pre-history there may have been asteroids and other planets bright enough to be called Suns. The ten sons of Chinese mythology are duplicated in many of the world’s stories and generally represent the succession of deities, an event that frequently took place with the killing of relatives or the Sun God (leader).
Sun worship was prevalent in ancient Egypt where the deities were often dominated by women, The goddess Wadjet was pre-dynastic and according to Egyptian myth she was the daughter of Atum (or later Ra) who was sent to Earth as his ‘eye’ to find Tefnut and Shu when they were lost in the Nun waters. Ra was so happy when Tefnut and Shu returned that he cried and created the first human beings from his tears. To reward his daughter, he placed her upon his head in the form of a cobra so that she would always be close to him and act as his protector.
Other goddesses included Sekhmet, Hathor, Bast, Bat, and Menhit. Hathor the horned-cow is one of the 12 daughters of Ra, and was said to be a wet-nurse to Horus, the falcon headed god of the sky and one of the most powerful gods in Egypt. The Sun’s movement across the sky represented the struggle between the spirit of the Pharaoh and the avatar of Osiris. Many cultures have used the sun as a signifier of power, warrior strength and the notion of a utopia.
Ch’ih Ching-tzŭ, the principle of spiritual fire is one of the five spirits representing the Five Elements. Fire has its birth in the South on Mount Shih-t’ang. According to the Sinologist E.T.C. Werner everything is connected to Ch’ih Ching-tzŭ: his skin, hair, beard, trousers, cloak of leaves, etc.-are all of the colour of fire, though he is sometimes represented with a blue cap resembling the blue tip of a flame. He appeared in the presence of Huang Lao in a fire-cloud. He it was who obtained fire from the wood of the mulberry-tree, and the heat of this fire, joined with the moisture of water, developed the germs of terrestrial beings.
Fire has been regarded as a key element in the advancement of humanity. Fire enabled the burning of huge scale forests for the planting of crops and the introduction of agriculture. Fire kept predators at bay and it allowed for the manufacture of utensils, including more sophisticated weapons. Even today harnessing fire is viewed as a symbol of power and underscores modern capitalist production.
Shamanism and Ancient Fire Ceremonies.
Fire ceremonies were held in most traditional cultures for healing the body and spirit. Fire provides the symbolic avenue to eliminate an old story or drama from the mind. Through the fire ceremony, a person honours their experiences and old beliefs by placing them in the fire and turning them over to the spirits. By releasing these old patterns and beliefs into the fire a healing is said to take place. The fire ceremony is one of the core ceremonies in the shamanic medicine traditions and it is typically held around the full or new moon of each month when the veils between the worlds are the thinnest.
Chinese flowers have many uses that include medicines and decoration. The flower begins simply as a spirit. In Chinese design every flower is the spirit broken down into its smallest elements. The branches and leaves are counted to ensure irregularity; an odd number is preferable since it is meant to convey the dynamic irregularity of the life force and Qi energy. Unopened buds should always be included among flower arrangements as they represent life’s continuous journey. The colours of the plants should also coordinate. The shades and forms of flowers are a reminder that some elements blend harmoniously while others clash; such is the nature of human emotions whereby each thought needs to be assessed individually for its positive and negative impacts.
The daffodil is a genus of the narcissus group of plants. In China the Daffodil has been used as a decoration for festivals like the Chinese New Year. There is a common Chinese legend of initiation that accounts for the origin of the daffodil.
The tale describes a man who left his property to his two sons with the understanding that it should be equally divided between them. However, the elder son seized every bit of the arable land and left the younger brother an acre of rock and water.
The younger son, unable to obtain justice, fell into a depression. A benevolent fairy appeared and after giving him three narcissus bulbs told him to drop them in the water. The bulbs flourished and their flowers attracted people from all over the country. In the course of a few years the brother accumulated a fortune by the rapid increase and sale of the bulbs. Then the older brother, envious of the younger’s prosperity bought a large amount of the bulbs, hoping to outwit his brother and gain a monopoly.
In order to achieve his aim, the older brother had to mortgage his property. Nonetheless, he secured the bulbs and planted them on his land. The bulbs did not flourish they died because these bulbs could not live long without water. The man lost his fortune and the mortgage on his land was foreclosed.
© Wogan-Browne Family.
It was the successful bulb growing brother who had purchased the mortgage so now, he who began with nothing ended up owning the entire estate and all the land. He began again to replant some of the dying bulbs in the watery acre and continued his success.
The narcissus appears in two known Greco-Roman myths, the first is that of the youth Narcissus who spent his time admiring his image in a pond until he faded into oblivion. He was said to have turned into the flower of the same name. The other story comes from the seventh century BCE Homeric Hymn to Demeter.
The Homeric myth relates to the Goddess Persephone who, while picking Narcissus flowers was abducted by the god Hades and taken into the Underworld. After being released Persephone was required to return to the Underworld every winter when life on the land was dormant. The event marks the winter solstice and the return of various plant species to the earth for regeneration. The Narcissus flower is thus associated with death and rebirth.
The narcissus flower features prominently in the historical literature for its narcotic effects which cause a change in the levels of consciousness. The Hindus have referred to this state as a mini-death. Greek authors making reference to the narcissus include Sophocles and Plutarch, Moschus, Theophrastus, Lucian, Pausanias Virgil, Georgics and Ovid, each giving credence to its common use. In folklore the narcissus was known for its healing powers often in conjunction with religious ritual.
Hippocrates (ca. B.C. 460–370) recommended a potion prepared from narcissus oil for the treatment of uterine tumours. His successors, the ancient Greek physicians Pedanius Dioscorides (ca. A.D. 40–90) and Soranus of Ephesus (A.D. 98–138) continued using this therapy in the first and second centuries A.D. In addition, Gaius Plinius Secundus, (A.D. 23–79) also called Pliny the Elder used of extracts from this plant as a treatment for cancers The Bible provides multiple references to the narcissus. The applications of narcissus oil in cancer management continued in the middle ages in North African, Central American and Arabian medicine. In Chinese the medicinal flower is called shui xian 水仙. In Australia the daffodil is the symbol used for finding a modern cure for cancer.
The chrysanthemum symbolizes strong intellectual accomplishments. It is known in China as the Flower of the Moon. It has cleansing qualities, cures illnesses, aids longevity, and is a symbol of autumn. The petals can be made into a tea, which has a delicate flavour.
Chinese legend tells the story of an elderly emperor who had heard about a magic herb that would give him eternal youth. The herb was said to grow on Dragonfly Island and could only be picked by young people. The elderly emperor therefore sent twenty-four children on a long and hazardous journey, but to no avail. Much to their dismay, when the children arrived at the island they found it totally deserted. There was no sign of the magic herb. All they found was a flower, the gold coloured chrysanthemum, which today marks the Chinese nationhood. The Revolutionary Chairman Mao replaced the imperial golden yellow flower with the bright red of the peoples’ republic.
A Japanese legend, which may have come from China describes the god Izanagi and the goddess Iznami, who were sent to earth across a bridge of clouds because there were too many gods in heaven. When the goddess arrived on earth she created the gods of the wind, the mountains and the sea, but perished miserably in the flames that sprang up while she was creating the god of fire. Izanagi, who missed her, followed her into a dismal place known as the Black Night. When he finally caught a glimpse of the goddess, he was immediately pursued by an old witch. He then fled back to earth, where he decided to cleanse himself in the river. The items of clothing he dropped onto the ground turned into twelve gods. His jewels turned into flowers, his bracelet into an iris, a second bracelet into a lotus flower and his necklace became a golden chrysanthemum.
Chrysanthemum in Shamanism.
In China and much of the surrounding region polished soapstone is carved into the shape of a chrysanthemum for use in ritual healings. The chrysanthemum also resembles the pattern in many Tibetan mandalas said to be both a symbol of life’s journey from the inner being to the outer cosmos as well as a tool for changing consciousness.
The callistemon is a shrub that belongs to the myrtaceous family and it is endemic to Australia and one of the nation’s most iconic symbols. The name callistemon has its origins in the Greek word callis meaning beauty. Callisto was a virginal nymph whom Zeus raped and impregnated. In a fit of jealousy, his wife Hera turned her into a bear thus Callisto is linked to the Big Bear constellation. The flower of the callistemon is distinct because it has thousands of beautiful stamen flowers creating each individual flower. The Aboriginal people of Australia have used the brush like flowers as a natural energy drink. By soaking the flowers in water all the natural elements in the bloom are released. In Aromatherapy the essential oil from the callistemon is used to harmonize a room or house bringing tranquil healing vibrations.
© Bohemian Gallery
The Callistemon is known for attracting birds, especially lorikeets, which are small to medium-sized arboreal parrots characterized by their specialized brush-tipped tongues used for feeding on the nectar of various blossom and soft fruits. Accordingly, mythology has the lorikeet and the Callistemon combined promising change. The small wren when perched on the branch of the Callistemon bush symbolizes the need to listen to nature. There is generally a delicate triangular balance to be conveyed within flowers and creatures. In Taoist drawings leaves and birds all pointing in the same direction signify a life of abundance and everything coming together in harmony within the natural order.
In the wild the koi are cold water fish who gain strength by swimming against currents. They are colourful, especially in sunlight and they are strong survivors. It is told that many thousands of years ago in the times of the shamans a huge school containing thousands of koi swam the length of the Yellow River turning the murky waters into a sea of jewels. The spectacular vision was not to last. When the koi reached a waterfall many of the koi were overcome with fear and turned back deciding to go with the flow of the river. Another group of 360 koi stayed on course and they attempted to jump the height of the falls. Every attempt failed and the koi landed back in the flowing waters. The commotion brought out the local demons who laughed at the koi. The demons tormented the koi further by increasing the height of the falls. The determined koi refused to give up and they continued their efforts for one hundred years. At last, with one heroic leap, a single koi reached the top of the falls where the good gods transformed the exhausted fish into a golden dragon. Today, the dragon is said to spend his days chasing the pearls of wisdom across the skies of the vast and eternal heavens while looking down on the smooth running of the waters.
The moral of the story is whenever a single koi finds the strength and courage to leap up the falls; he or she too becomes the heavenly dragon; someone who can overcome adversity. Hence, the koi have become a symbol of Chinese destiny. In ancient China carved stone seals bearing pictures of koi and dragons were given to young Chinese men who past the required tests to become government officials.
© Bohemian Gallery.
In China, the koi fish is symbolic of unity and fidelity as the fish often swim together in pairs. With this in mind, fish are often given as wedding gifts in the form of charms or figurines to present the newly-wed couple with an auspicious sign of fidelity and perfect union. Koi also represent fertility and abundance due to their ability to reproduce with speed and in high volume.
© Bohemian Gallery.
The Fish in Shamanism.
In Buddhism the koi fish symbolize happiness and freedom. The fish makes its appearance as one of the eight sacred symbols of the Buddha, they are the Conch, Lotus, Parasol, Wheel, Knot, Pair of Gold Fish (koi), Banner of Victory and Vase. Each symbolizes the web of life dominated by the female principle. Water has been known to depict the womb and as such, is an emblem of birth, fertility and female power, which in turn has given rise to many Flood myths. The fish is also associated with the ancient waters of the mind or the subconscious. Both the emotions and knowledge are connected with water because they transform. Water, especially when portrayed as mist, contains all the mysteriousness of the unknown. In paganism the fish is the Divine Mother who is often seen emerging from the mists of lakes and rivers.
The fish was sacred in Greco-Roman mythology. In the myth of Aphrodite and Heros both turned themselves into fish in order to escape from the ferocious Typhon. In Christianity the fish is a symbol of abundance as demonstrated in the Biblical story of fishes and loaves. There are also several Biblical references to Jesus and his disciples as being the ‘fishers of men’. The ancient Celts believed the salmon derived its wisdom from consuming the sacred hazel nuts from the well of knowledge. Further, they believed to eat the salmon would mean gaining their wisdom. In ancient India the fish is a symbol of birth and transformation as told in the myth of the ancient Flood in which Vishnu changes himself into a fish (Matsya) to save the world from drowning. In this form Vishnu is guided by king Manu’s boat (the Ark) and brought to safety.
The Tree Fern.
In China the tree fern (Cibotium barometz) is also called the golden chicken fern or woolly fern. There are many species of Cibotium barometz and the tree is common to parts of Australia where it tends to grow in rain forest areas or in the damp gullies of rolling hills. The tree fern stands tall above the other shrubs yet beneath the canopy. In Chinese myth this position signifies a middle path of calmness and mediation. The Chinese association with the chicken fern, so called for its feathery leaves and stems, endowed the tree fern with the qualities of the phoenix (fenghuang).
Tree Fern Medicine.
The fern tree is regarded as one of Guangdong’s top ten Southern medicines. Cibotium barometz, or Gou Ji in mandarin is a traditional Chinese herb that has been commonly used for many ailments, in particular low back pain. The name Gou Ji herb or Jinmao Gouji literally means a golden haired dog’s back, due to the resemblance between the root of the plant and a dog’s back. It is still used today and is primarily produced in Fujian, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guangxi and a few other places. Cibotium barometz sits together with other tree medicines that make up the Taoist spectrum of plant cures.
The natural landscape is the main inspiration for Chinese art, the landscape dictates the terms of creation whereby everything else follows in its wake. The landscape is an integral part of the creationist story and it has an ongoing mythology for creating what is effectively a mirror of the ink artist’s personal life journey.
When the spectator gazes at the centre of the landscape s/he is drawn into the vortex. This increases concentration and causes subtle changes in the brain’s capacity for vision, perception and interpretation. Hitherto, the mystery of Chinese landscapes has been a source of deep reverence and contemplation, moods that invoke the inner worlds. This is said to bring about mental and physical healing, but there has been little modern understanding how this process actually works to heal. Accordingly, it is said by the Chinese artist that the body heals itself with imagination (‘Qi’).
© Bohemian Gallery
The Classic of the Mountains and Seas describes 204 mythical figures who are guides for directing and healing the spirit of the human. These guides are implicated in the three most prominent Chinese legends and their key figures: Pan-Gu, Fu-Xi and Shen-Nong. Modern research seems to indicate that Pan-Gu, Fu-Xi and Shen-Nong, in their first incarnations might have been three mountains that were humanized. These three figures may have represented the spirit of the mountains, or perhaps they were sacred places for rituals or even burial grounds. The ancient Chinese were extremely auspicious and it may be simply that mountain air is cleaner and healthier and the feeling of well-being has been viewed as a gift from the mountain gods.
© Bohemian Gallery
The importance of the Classic of Mountains and Seas cannot be overstated. It was intended to be a survey of the entire world as an evolutionary and spiritual entity guided by gods and shamans. As the Sinologist Anne Birrell notes, new physical and cosmological knowledge…was so bound to the ideological burden of the past that classical authors adjusted their ancient cosmological concepts instead of radically restructuring their old world order. Carl Jung saw this past reflection as advantageous and noted that the same psychological unconscious mechanisms (imagination) inherent in every human being gave life to Pan Gu, Fu Xi and Shen Nong. For the Chinese imagination also gave rise to the trigrams and the hexagrams that represent the physical and psychological environment in which those who consult the I Ching can obtain answers to their questions. As Jung discovered the Taoists transformed the landscape and all its elements into visual symbols (mimetoliths) for the purpose of understanding the world and humanity’s place in it. Myths and legends contained the knowledge of medicines as well as maps and pathways into the mountains were the medicinal grasses and herbs grew in abundance. It is the task of the ink artist to reproduce this knowledge for future generations.
The fruit of the strawberry plant has been regarded as quintessentially British. It is believed that the serving of strawberries in England must have come from Tudor times when the dish was first served up in 1509. Combining strawberries and cream was apparently the work of Cardinal Wolsey, the most powerful man in England who may well have been trying to lead his adversaries into his way of thinking, especially on current affairs. The history of strawberries in China is equally auspicious and far pre-dates any other European versions. Strawberries are highly nutritious and contain anti-inflammatory agents that are good for ailments that plague the affluent, such as gout. The most cautionary story of strawberries is told in the myth of two sisters.
Sou Sou and Gu Zai.
There were once two sisters-in-law who, apart from each other, were alone in the world. The other family members had been lost in a flood. They lived well together in harmony and decided to embark on an enterprise to enhance their companionship and talents. The older of the pair, Sou Sou was very good at embroidery and with the help of the younger sister Gu Zai, she opened up a small embroidery shop. Together they made a good income and life was very rewarding. Sou Sou could replicate almost any image on silk; lions, birds, dragons, pines, storks, children; nothing was beyond her and her sewing skills. There was one thing, however, that eluded her; the arbutus, or the Chinese strawberry. It was a very rare and beautiful flower that blooms very briefly before dropping its petals. Sou Sou had never been able to copy a Chinese strawberry because she had never seen one she had only heard about them. It happened that Sou Sou was told by a neighbour that that a few strawberry flowers were in bloom on the nearby hills, she was so excited she set off immediately to look for the plant in order to make some drawings of it. The plant was not easy to find. Sou Sou walked the hills for a long time before she found an unusually pretty flower which she supposed was a Chinese strawberry. By this time darkness was setting in and she was feeling nervous because a hungry tiger was lurking in the bushes nearby. When the tiger saw Sou Sou it attacked her, killed her and dragged her body away to his den.
Night came and Sou Sou had not arrived home so a very worried Gu Zai closed up the store and headed to the mountains in the direction Sou Sou had taken. Along the hills Gu Zai found shreds of clothing by a small patch of Chinese strawberries and instantly knew something was wrong. She called out ‘Sou Sou, where are you?’ Over and over she cried, ‘Sou Sou? Sou Sou?’
Gu Zai walked a little further and then she came to a pile of bones, suddenly she realized that her beloved Sou Sou had been eaten by a tiger. Gu Zai knelt before the bones and cried until morning. Her heart was broken and her voice became silenced. Gu Zai’s spirit then changed into the cuckoo, which still calls out Sou Sou whenever the pink and red flowers of the Chinese strawberry are in bloom. The cuckoo is often under attack from other birds and must constantly exercise caution.
© Wogan-Browne Family.
The Fox in Chinese mythology is predominately a female who overcomes all adversity.
A tiger caught a fox. The fox said ‘You would not dare eat me! The gods in Heaven have made me the leader of all animals. It would be a violation of the gods… If you doubt it, let me walk in front and you follow to see if any animal dares stand his ground’. The tiger consented and went with the fox, nose to heal. Every animal that saw them fled. Amazed, and agreeing that the fox was the leader of all animals, the tiger went on his way. Chen Kuo Tse.
The aim of this work has been to capture the inner spirit of Geraldine Wogan-Browne’s traditional Chinese ink art through the mythical stories and beliefs of Taoism. I have attempted to emphasize the extraordinary discipline that governs the practice of Taoism and its often illusive expression in the ink arts.
Modern science suggests we are fulfilled when all aspects of our human being come together in complete synchronicity with the environment; this is how we form our true identity. With this knowledge the ink artist has the ability to find balance through contemplation and adaptation. The ink artist escapes the life traumas by way of acceptance, thus reducing the impact rather than allowing complaint or disenchantment to overcome the emotions. This kind of mindfulness, learned from her art, gave Geraldine a greater insight into what it takes to create a better world. In Geraldine’s era it was not easy for a woman to speak out against injustice or to coax people into passive resistance, but rather than be defeated she hid her knowledge in Taoist art in much the same way as medieval alchemists buried their secrets in texts and drawings to avoid persecution. In doing so she created an aesthetic mixture of line, space, contour and texture and created a form that presents itself as egalitarian, not unlike the calligraphy from which the Wu genre germinates. Chinese art has always been egalitarian which makes it open to all who have the presence of mind to learn the discipline. In Geraldine’s case the art of copying symbols was gradually exceeded by creating her own designs. She blended two highly disparate landscapes into a multi-cultural pastiche to create a Chinese-Australian ink art tradition and others have since followed in her footsteps.
The Chinese ink artist seeking harmony will often restrict the colour palate to monotones to achieve the kind of atmosphere that conveys the magic and mystery of Taoist passivity. The Chinese artist understands the vibrations of life and how various colours impact on the minds of audiences. It follows that art speaks in different languages; some have called this the visionary mode of communication.
Art has its own motif, often vibrant, often disturbing. Artists appear to be more complex than most people, they are more extreme and they seem to have more physical energy while being able to experience quiet times of contemplation. Art is a natural human resource for calming the mind and settling the heart. Hence, for the Chinese artist the inner world is not a place of demons or struggle, it is a place of mindfulness and productivity. The artist seeks a better world and this was clearly the goal of Geraldine Wogan-Browne, whereby she has left an important legacy for others who aspire towards a better and more harmonious global community.
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(ii) Animal drawings courtesy of the Bohemian Gallery, South Gippsland, Vic……………………………………………………………………….
(iii) Chinese Zodiac: Wiki Commons……………………………………….
(iv) Photograph of Geraldine Wogan-Browne: Photo. Ken Irwin, Sabrelyn Park in Waratah Bay. The Melbourne Age 16th September 2003 Wiki-Commons.
Figure 1: Geraldine Wogan-Browne’s grave photo. Noelle McCleod. 2015.
Figure 2: Foster Cemetery: Photo. Noelle McCleod. 2015.
Figure 3: Obituary from the Foster Mail 8th April, 2012.
Figure 4: Welshpool Main Street Photo. Cassie-Rose James 2012.
Figure 5: Gippsland Landscape. Photo. Wiki Commons.
Figure 6: Chinese brushes. Photo. C. James 2013.
Figure 7: Chinese brushes……………………….
Figure 8: Pythagorean symbols. Wiki Commons.
Figure 9: Bench by A. McPherson. Photo. B. Matthews. 2013.
Figure 10: Oracle Bone inscription. Wiki Commons.
Figure 11: Chinese numerals inscribed on the Oracle Bone. Wiki commons
Figure 12: Chinese Calendar: Wiki Commons.
Figure 13: Plasma in the sky. Wiki Commons.
Figure 14: Bhimbetka rock paintings of India, World Heritage Site. Wiki
Figure 15: Bhimbetka rock paintings……………………………………
Figure 16: Chinese symbol for ‘Qi’ Divine Creativity. Wiki Commons.
Figure 17: Numbered brush strokes reveal stages in Taoist art by meditation. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne.
Figure 18: The Monogram of Geraldine Wogan-Browne.
Figure 19: Dan in Chinese.
Figure 20: Application of stroke for the mouth. Arch Chinese Rules for Strokes.
Figure 21: Depiction of brush flow. Arch Chinese Rules for Strokes.
Figure 22: ‘Ocean’ is written in two parts. Arch Chinese Rules for Strokes.
Figure 23: Numbered drawing of figures. Geraldine Wogan-Browne.
Figure 24: Chinese symbol for magic. Wiki Commons.
Figure 25: Nüwa, Wiki Commons.
Figure 26. Chinese symbol for the horse. Wiki Commons.
Figure 27: Chinese Silk Goddess.
Figure 28: The Eight Immortals. Wiki Commons and www.china.com
Figure 29: Make-up of the Eight Immortals.
Figure 30: Chinese symbol for Wu shamans.
Figure 31: Shen Zhou Painting. Wiki Commons
Figure 32: Kuan-yin. Wiki Commons.
Figure 33: Ursa Major Constellation (the Great Dipper). Wiki Commons.
Figure 34. Symbol of Taoism.
Figure 35. Confucius. Wiki Commons.
Figure 36: Five Phased Paradigm, consisting of the generating and the controlling circles. Wiki Commons.
Figure 37: The 8 Hexagrams of Fu Xi. Wiki Commons.
Figure 38: Human Body Meridians. Wiki Commons.
Figure 39: Lao Tzu. Wiki Commons.
Figure 40: Symbol for Wu Wei. Fractal Enlightenment.com.
Figure 41. Feng Shui Chart. Wiki Commons.
Figure 42: Feng Shui animal chart. Wiki Commons.
Figure 43: Chinese symbol for mountain.
Figure 44: Symbol for Medicine.
Figure 45: Symbol for Destiny.
Figure 46: Symbol for Divinity.
Figure 47: Symbol for Appearance.
Figure 48: Bagua map.
Figure 49: Turtle Calendar. Wiki Commons.
Figure 50: Signs: David N. Keightley (1989). The Origins of Writing in China: Scripts and Cultural Contexts.
Figure 51: Signs: David N. Keightley (1989). The Origins of Writing in China: Scripts and Cultural Contexts.
Figure 52: Signs: David N. Keightley (1989). The Origins of Writing in China: Scripts and Cultural Contexts.
Drawing by Geraldine Wogan- Browne. Bohemian Gallery.
Bamboo. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne……………
Bamboo. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne……………
Grass. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Wogan-Browne Family.
Grass. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Bohemian Gallery.
People with Rods. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Bohemian Gallery Collection.
Bamboo. Drawing by Geralding Wogan-Browne. Wogan-Browne Family.
Strokes. Ink drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. D. Wolochin.
Rocky landscape. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan- Browne. Bohemian Gallery.
Drawing of a Duck. Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Bohemian Gallery.
Bird Resting. Early drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. The D. Woloschin.
Man on Mule. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Wogan-Browne Family.
Man Pulling Mule………………………………………………………………….
Man pulling mule………………………………………………………………….
Man and Tree. Drawing………………………………………………………….
Pathway to the top of the mountain. Ink drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. D. Woloschin.
People on Swing Bridge. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Bohemian Gallery.
Hillside Bridge. Geraldine Wogan Browne. ………………………………………..
Boat. Ink drawing by Geraldine Wogan Brown……………………………………..
Mountain Summit. Ink drawing by Geraldine Wogan Brown……………………….
Daffodil. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Brown. D. Woloschin.
Strokes. Ink drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne………………………………….
Chrysanthemum. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Bohemian Gallery.
Blossom. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. ……………………………………..
Callistemon. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Brown…………………………………….
Callistemon. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Brown…………………………………….
Bird on Tree Branch. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Brown. Dawn Woloschin Collection.
Bird on bottlebrush branch. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Bohemian Gallery.
Fish Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. …………………………………………..
Fish Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. …………………………………………..
Tree Fern. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne……………………………………..
Landscape. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne…………………………………….. .
Landscape. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne…………………………………….
Trees. Drawings by Geraldine Wogan-Browne…………………………………………
Trees. Drawings by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. ………………………………………..
Landscape. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne……………………………………
Strawberries. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne. Wogan-Browne Family.
Strawberries. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne……………………………………
Landscape. Drawing by Geraldine Wogan-Browne………………………………………