Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sumi-e and Haiku

Last post, I left you with the thought that the art of Sumi-e was directly related to the art of Haiku. Let's take a closer look at this concept. Since Sumi-e is minimalist painting and Haiku is minimalist writing, it would be reasonable to say that the two art forms would naturally support one another and often be studied and exhibited together.

In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line, while haiku in English usually appear in three lines, to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku. Such as :

The fragrance!
Though I know not
Whence it comes.
~ Basho

Previously called hokku, haiku was given its current name by the Japanese writer Masaoka Shiki at the end of the 19th century. The typical length of haiku appearing in the main English-language journals is 10–14 syllables and have a  symmetrical line arrangement such as 5-7-5 or 3-5-3.  Some haiku poets are concerned with their haiku being expressed in one breath and the extent to which their haiku focus on "showing" as opposed to "telling".  Therefore haiku is concerned with showing minimally as is Sumi-e.

Now let's look at the undesputed master of the haiku, Matsuo Bashō, an Edo-period Japanese haiku poet. Bashō's poetry was quickly recognized for it's simple and natural style. Sumi-e is recognized for it's simple and elegant brush strokes. A natural combination.

Let me show you an example of how I have used haiku in combination with contemporary sumi-e. For me as an artist, usually the haiku inspires the sumi-e. This results in a simple creative expression and profound experience.  However, I have occasionally painted the sumi-e first and then combined the result with haiku. The following haiku is considered to be Basho's most famous haiku of all.

At the ancient pond,
a frog plunges into,
the sound of water.
~ Basho

Sound of Water by Casey Shannon