Monday, 15 March 2010

There is Something Missing

It begins with a blank canvas, made ready with the application of the gesso that will allow the paint to adhere to the canvas. We stand and look at that blank canvas and in our mind we have the perfect vision of what will be there when we finish. Slowly but surely we work applying paint moving the paint to the shape we want. We stop and have a break while we contemplate the work in progress. Still in our mind we hold the vision of the finished work. “This one will be better than any other I have done before,” we think. “This time I will get it right.”

Slowly but surely the picture that is held in the mind begins to appear on the canvas. We step back, we look again, and we think and contemplate. As the work proceeds we move down the scale of brushes adding finer points here and there just touching it making the final strokes that will bring everything into place. At last we feel it is finished, we can leave it to dry and settle.

Our first thoughts are that it is alright. The trouble is as we look at it a bit further we see something that is just not the way we meant it to be. The painting is put back on the easel and paint made ready to make the adjustments needed. We tinker with it here and we touch it there. Step back and look and think it just needs a little bit more of this colour and a little more of that. At last it is finished. Again it is left to dry and settle. The next day we look again and wish we had left it the way it was in the beginning, but it is now too late. The damage has been done. It looks good but so often not as good as it might have.

There is a story of a young monk preparing the garden of the monastery for a very special event that was to take place that day. Over the wall there lived a wise old sage who watched as the young monk trimmed all the bushes taking great care as he snipped little branches here and there. He combed all the moss on the rocks so that it all lay in the same direction. He raked all the fallen leaves and made beautiful patterns in the gravel. After many hours he stood back to admire his work. He saw the old sage watching and said to him, “Is this not perfection?” “It is beautiful indeed,” said the old sage, “but there is one thing missing. If you lift me over I will show you.” The young monk did just that, he lifted the old sage over the wall. The old sage went over to the tree in the middle of the garden and shook it with vigour, shaking leaves to the ground. “There,” he said, “now it is perfect.”

Sometimes it is better to leave things the way they are, any interference from us only makes things less than it was before we started. To know when to work and when not to work is the way of Tao. There is often more gained by not doing than can be achieved by doing.

The comments about the chosen work of art can be viewed at:- AlongThe Firebreak


  1. So true Ralph; can't count the number of canvases I've ruined by 'tweeking' a bit here and a bit there. Takes self control not to, doesn't it?

  2. Is this the painting that you changed? You should take photos at different stages--that way you have a better chance of "keeping" what you liked! Well, this seems a very good painting, despite your post that indicates you are not satisfied with it. Love those blue flowers!
    I like to paint over the paintings that didn't work out for me with something completely different from the original attempt. Do you do the same type of thing sometimes? Here is an example:

  3. No Idid not paint over this I still have this painting but I also have another version of it painted for somebody who want me to make small changes. I now have both versions. This I think is the better of the two.